This old alligator photo has a vintage vibe I called upon when I created the setting for Lost Lake — a swampy, quirky resort with a heyday long since passed. This photo was also used as inspiration for the retro feel of the postcards designed exclusively for the book. You’ll find the postcards, which include some hidden alligator images, sprinkled throughout the pages of Lost Lake.
Elizabeth Eulberg is the author of four previous contemporary YA titles, and I’ve had her on my radar since I read Revenge of the Girl With a Great Personality (a super funny and actually sweet YA behind the scenes of children’s beauty pageants and the families of the girls who compete).
Eulberg has an ability to tell a great story full of poignant, really valuable moments that also make you laugh out loud. When I saw she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it… especially when I saw it compared to When Harry Met Sally! I mean, come on. Who can resist that?
In Better Off Friends, we get to follow the friendship of Macallan, an eighth grade girl dealing with the still-recent death of her mom, and Levi, an eighth grade boy transplanted from California to Wisconsin. When Macallan is given the task of showing Levi around on their first day of school, she mostly just barely tolerates him until they realize they both love the same quirky British TV show. From there, Levi and Macallan become good friends over the course of the school year.
When high school hits, everybody thinks they’re dating, but they’re still just friends… best friends. The banter between the two of them, and the way they retreat into their own world throughout various situations in the book, is just nothing short of magical in quality. In addition to the alternating point of view between Levi and Macallan as they go back and tell their story, there are also snippets of their present day conversations in between chapters. Eulberg has written a couple of characters here that I would honestly want to hang out with if they were real; they are full of life and so much fun.
The book spans over about four and a half years, which seemed at first like it was moving too quickly, glossing over important things, but by the time I finished I realized the pacing had been perfect – watching Levi and Macallan basically grow up together over those years made the experience even more enjoyable.
Another great thing about Eulberg, and particularly Better Off Friends, is that she tells great stories for a range of YA audiences without profanity or glorified drinking/drug use and sexual situations. This book could be enjoyed by 7th and 8th graders looking forward to good, healthy friendships (and romance) in high school, high school students in the thick of it, college/early career readers reflecting on high school relationships, and moms hoping their kids have people like these in their lives as they navigate young adulthood.
Erika Robuck is quickly becoming one of the most prolific writers in the publishing business today. She published her first novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, to much acclaim in 2012, and followed it up shortly thereafter with CALL ME ZELDA in 2013. Her third novel, FALLEN BEAUTY, hit bookstores last week and Erika joins us today to share a bit of the novel’s inspiration. Also, thanks to the generous team at NAL, we have all three of her novels up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.
There is a blackening bronze bust of a woman in the corner shadows of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s parlor at her estate, Steepletop. I was struck by it when the docent allowed me to peek into the room while doing research for my novel, Fallen Beauty. I tried to take in the duel pianos, the custom desk, the formal draperies and ornate seating, but my eyes were continuously drawn back to the sculpture. Her presence felt heavy, looming, and dominant, and her black eyes were hypnotic. I interrupted the tour guide’s speech to ask, “Who is she?”
He explained that Sappho was the ancient love poet, teacher, and muse known for her intense female friendships, including lesbian relationships, with her students. Some say she died by throwing herself into the sea when a young sailor rejected her. I knew Millay wrote of Sappho in several poems, and believed herself to be a goddess of sorts, her vocation poetry. Spellbound as I was by the bust, I could imagine the woman herself, and united her to Millay in my subconscious.
Weeks after my visit to Steepletop, I passed a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a church, and was struck in a different way. The statue showed Mary crushing a serpent under her foot, her face a mask of calm, though her tremendous power was evident in her dominance. This light image contrasted with the dark bust of Sappho in my mind, and grew to become the extended metaphor for the women in my novel.
What I wanted to embody through each of my characters—especially the women—was the power they derived from art, including sculpture, poetry, and sewing. In my novel there are many dark and light women, mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers. The moon and the night are prevalent, and the sacred feminine is dominant in all its forms. I also explore the particular cruelty of women as judges and betrayers of one another, and the idea that our criticisms of others are often what we hate and fear most in ourselves.
Fallen Beauty is my darkest and most exploratory novel, but I do hope the reader connects to its powerful female characters. Dark or light, bronze or marble, poet or seamstress, I want the reader to gather a sense of triumph and redemption for all types of women.
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Upstate New York, 1928. Laura Kelley and the man she loves sneak away from their judgmental town to attend a performance of the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. But the dark consequences of their night of daring and delight reach far into the future.…
That same evening, Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her indulgent husband hold a wild party in their remote mountain estate, hoping to inspire her muse. Millay declares her wish for a new lover who will take her to unparalleled heights of passion and poetry, but for the first time, the man who responds will not bend completely to her will.…
Two years later, Laura, an unwed seamstress struggling to support her daughter, and Millay, a woman fighting the passage of time, work together secretly to create costumes for Millay’s next grand tour. As their complex, often uneasy friendship develops amid growing local condemnation, each woman is forced to confront what it means to be a fallen woman…and to decide for herself what price she is willing to pay to live a full life.
I am particularly fond of today’s guest. She happens to be my literary agent and someone whose reading tastes I trust implicitly. I’ve had the joy of working with Elisabeth for exactly two years now and I can’t imagine any author having a better champion. As part of our ongoing series, I asked her to share two novels with you today, one that she represented and one that she didn’t. It’s a fascinating peek into what captures the attention of an agent on a professional and personal level.
I remember getting Teri’s query for her debut, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY (originally titled UNBOUNDED) weeks after my son was born in the spring of 2008. I immediately fell in love with her novel and jumped on the phone with her in a sleep deprived state. Lucky for me, my enthusiasm outweighed my postpartum haze and Teri signed with me. Within days of submitting the novel we were in a bidding war which ended with a two book deal with Shaye Areheart/Crown Books.
The Moon Sisters, which became that second book, tells the story of Olivia and Jazz Moon, two very different sisters, in the wake of their mother’s probable suicide. Olivia, the younger, free-spirited sister (who has synesthesia—she can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights–something that Teri pulls off magically) is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest. Jazz, the older more practical sister, is forced to follow along and make sure she stays out of trouble. Along the way, these two connect over their family and their loss in a truly heartbreaking and emotionally satisfying way.
Second novels can be hard for authors, but Teri rose to the occasion with The Moon Sisters. What’s been so exciting for me is to see her push herself to new heights as a writer. I am always fascinated with how books come into existence for an author and knowing that this book was inspired by the true journey of the author and her own two sisters as they recovered from the grief of their dad’s death made it all the more special. Teri’s attention to language is spot on–reviews have referred to it as “luminous” and I think that is a perfect word for her writing. Put that language to use in the bogs of West Virginia, full of will-o’-the-wisp lights, synesthesia, some train-hopping and a touch of magical realism and you have yourself a really powerful read.
I was first introduced to Pavone (who I actually met back when he was a book editor) with his debut thriller THE EXPATS, a really fun, fast-paced read with a female protagonist who is not exactly what she seems. It’s such a good page-turner, with so many twists and turns that when I gave it to my husband to read, he dropped the ball on picking up the kids, using the fact that he needed to finish the book before he did anything else. So, when Pavone’s editor, Zack Wagman, told me that his second thriller was based in the world of publishing, with a female literary agent as its protagonist no less, I stalked him regularly until he sent me a galley.
THE ACCIDENT involves an anonymous manuscript with secrets so dire that everyone from heads of media companies to the CIA are willing to do anything to stop if from coming to light. So when it lands on literary agent Isabel Reed’s desk, basically everyone in publishing is at risk. As someone who works in publishing, this was such a fun read. Even though nothing as exciting as the plot happens in real life publishing, the author draws such realistic characters–there’s the eager assistant, the down-on-his-luck editor, the fed up foreign rights agent and the slimy film agent–who all want a piece of this story, without making any of them cliched. And, of note, I made my husband read this as well, and he loved it so I would say you are in for a treat regardless of where you work.
There are times when reading a book becomes so much more than just your eyes scanning words on a page. In those times, the act of reading becomes an encounter, a memory, a moment. And when that happens, that book, that author, that character becomes as familiar as a family member, as fond to you as an old friend. Reading transcends the boundaries of paper and ink and we know we will be different for having read that author, found that book, met those characters and visited that setting.
That happened for me one winter weekend as I sat in a warm pancake house and disappeared inside the pages of Sarah Addison Allen’s THE SUGAR QUEEN. When I looked up from the story, I was honestly surprised the ordinary world still existed. I devoured that book and went on to read everything Sarah had written, gobbling them up until there was nothing left. Then I had to wait for more titles, eagerly anticipating the next.
And so when we at She Reads learned that Sarah Addison Allen had a title coming out this year, we begged for early copies, hoping–expecting– that we would be able to share the book with you as a monthly selection. And so this month of March, we are happy to be able to do so. We invite you to disappear inside the pages of LOST LAKE, to meet the citizens of this forgotten place, to learn the secrets the land– and people– hide. There is a bit of magic and mystery, a lot of love and hope. It is a story of new beginnings best shared, we think, during this month when winter loses its grip and spring begins to glimmer ahead of us. We hope that you will lose yourself in this story like we did. That you will look up and be surprised the world is still there.
The wonderful publishing team at St. Martin’s Press is giving away five copies of LOST LAKE to our lucky readers this month. See the entry form below for details.
The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.
That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.
It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.
Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.
One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it’s too late?
At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.
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Sarah Addison Allen is the New York Times Bestselling author of Garden Spells (2007) The Sugar Queen (2008) The Girl Who Chased the Moon (2010) and The Peach Keeper (2011). She was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina.
We will announce our March book club selection tomorrow, but I wanted to pause for a moment first and thank you. This is the first time I’ve been on She Reads as an author and I have a whole new appreciation for this reading community. You are engaged. Thoughtful. Funny. Enthusiastic. Warm. Intelligent. The authors featured here are truly the luckiest authors in the world. I am lucky to know you and to be read by you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank YOU.
I’ve been a fan of Susan Meissner’s writing since I read her much-acclaimed novel, THE SHAPE OF MERCY. So I’m delighted that she’s with us today, sharing about her latest novel. We’ve got a copy of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.
A couple years ago I watched a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the part of Ellis Island that no one has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are literally falling into ruins. The lingering images of rooms where thousands upon thousands from a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. There had to be countless stories pressed into the walls and bricks and panes of glass of this hospital, stories of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life. But unless they were cured of whatever ailment they had arrived with, they would not set foot on America’s shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate waiting room– it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story.
When I first began pulling at plot threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful while a patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, and the more photographs I looked at, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place that was no one’s address. The dozens of languages spoken at Ellis added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was this nurse here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? I knew something life-changing had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames. For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.
I knew I wanted something a person could touch, see, and embrace to tie these two stories together. I chose a scarf for rather deeply metaphorical reasons; they are accessories. They are meant to draw attention to something bigger. In this case, the scarf patterned in marigolds, and which links two women who will never meet, is there to draw attention to something far bigger than just the wearer. The book that evolved from looking at those haunting images of Ellis Island’s past is a story about the resiliency of the human spirit. It is centered on the truth that love, though the loss of it can tear your soul in two, is still the grandest thing there is, and is ultimately what will mend that heart that is broken.
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In 1911, nurse Clara Wood witnesses the death of the man she loves in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and chooses to bury her grief and regret while ministering to sick immigrants on Ellis Island. Insulated from the rest of New York and the world, she refuses to set foot on the mainland, even on her days off. When an emigrant Welshman arrives wearing his deceased wife’s distinctive scarf, Clara finds herself drawn to the man and what she perceives as shared grief. But then she discovers something about the man’s wife that he does not know which places Clara in a moral dilemma while she ponders the depths and resiliency of love. Interwoven into Clara’s tale is the story of 9/11 widow and single mother Taryn Michaels, whose specialty fabric shop seems to cushion her against the overwhelming regret she’s known since witnessing the fall of the North Tower on September 11. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a newly published photo of Taryn watching the towers fall forces her to not only relive the event but face again the guilt of knowing that had she made different decisions that day, her husband would’ve lived. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.
Our guest today is not only a great writer but one of my favorite people as well. I met J.T. Ellison a year ago when I moved back to Nashville and I knew instantly that she was a kindred spirit. (How can you not bond with a girl who loves Mexican food and OUTLANDER?) She’s been a huge encouragement to me in my own publishing journey and it’s a such honor to introduce her to you. J.T.’s latest novel, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, releases today (We’ve got a copy up for grabs–see the entry form below). It got starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and I’m certain it will be one of the year’s hottest thrillers. Grab some coffee. Pull up a chair. And enjoy a peek inside the mind of a truly gifted author.
(Nashville readers: J.T. will be signing books tonight at the Barnes & Noble in Cool Springs. I’ll be there with my party hat on and would love for you to join me in celebrating her most recent success!)
Ariel: You’re a seasoned, established author with eleven published novels under your belt. The general assumption would be that you have this writing thing figured out and that it’s easy for you. But given the nature of art, I’d guess that there’s still something about this process that takes you by surprise. Can you share with us what that might be?
J.T: Every time I sit down to write a book, I forget how to do it. You’d think after writing fourteen novels, I’d get the hang of it. But it never fails, it takes me at least 25,000 words to start feeling comfortable, and believing in the story, and it’s not until I hit 200 pages or so that I relax and start to allow the story to unfold as it needs. I never take anything for granted, because you never know when the muse is going to be naughty and not come out to play. And I’m always astounded when I type those three little pound signs – starting may be hard, but the moment you realize you’re finished is priceless.
Ariel: I’m always fascinated by how certain writers are drawn to certain genres. I tend to think it’s part of our literary DNA. (For instance, my early love of Agatha Christie ensures that anything I write will have a strong Mystery element.) What is it about writing Thrillers that is so compelling for you? What influenced you in that direction?
J.T: It’s the psychology behind crime that does it for me: the idea that one person decides they’re above the law, that they deserve something more than the next person, and carry on down a path that can lead to such dire consequences – murder and betrayal the least of it. I’m always amazed by how terrible people can be to each other. I studied psychology, of course, but it was a show called Profiler my then boyfriend, now husband, and I watched while we were dating that turned me on to this world. If I’d been ten years younger, I probably would have ended up in forensics instead of writing about them.
There is so little real justice in this world. I like to write stories where the bad guys get caught and the good guys ride off into the sunset. Call it an overdeveloped sense of morality. I am aghast at lawlessness. I have quite a healthy overactive imagination, too, which allows me to dream up all sorts of terrors.
Ariel: WHEN SHADOWS FALL is the latest installment in a series featuring forensic pathologist, Samantha Owens. From the outside it looks like you’ve mastered the art of writing series. But I’m curious to know the challenges that come with such an undertaking? And also the benefits? What are the unique considerations you must take when writing a character-driven series?
J.T: Given this is the third series I’m working on… I learned quite a bit of what not to do with my first series. I gave homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson too many limitations, didn’t give her enough room to expand the series inside her current role. She’s an iconic hero, and iconic heroes don’t change and grow very much. Of course, I never set out to write those books as a series, it sort of happened when I wasn’t looking. Seven books later, I found a way to continue her story without compromising the series.
With Samantha, I’ve been very deliberate, giving her persona and world all sorts of extra nooks and crannies that can be brought out, examined, developed, or stashed away for a later story. It’s very freeing having all these parameters set so loosely. She’s been such fun to write, to grow, to alter as I see fit. She’s a very relatable woman. She’s suffered a tremendous loss — her family drowned in the Nashville floods — and she’s had to find a way to keep facing each dawn since. Her journey from grief to joy to finding love again is the reason I’m writing these books. Sam lives with such grace, such strength. She inspires me. She engenders great loyalty from those around her. She’s smart and sassy and driven, but she steps in it, a lot, too, which makes her fun to write, and I hope, fun to read about.
It’s easy to write a series when your main character has this kind of depth. I build the world, then set the characters loose and see what sort of havoc they can create.
Ariel: Given your subject matter I’d guess that you’ve had at least one interesting experience in the name of research. Have you ever been to the morgue to witness an autopsy? Visited a shooting range? Or interviewed a doctor about the mechanics of murder? Do tell!
Oh, I have a few. I have done a set of autopsies, which was horrifying in its own wonderful way, and one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I won’t freak anyone out, but if you’re interested in hearing more about it, here’s a link to a piece I wrote on the experience.
I do go shooting. I grew up in the wilds of Colorado so guns were a part of life. I think it’s important to know what it feels like to handle a gun, to realize how hard it is to load under stress, just how much pressure you need to pull a trigger, all of that. To see a .22 bullet, something so small seems so harmless, and yet we know it’s not. It gives you a healthy dose of reality.
I did multiple ride-alongs with the Metro Nashville police, going out with homicide, overnight patrol. My first overnight, we were called to a stabbing in a terrible part of Nashville. The victim died on the scene, we caught the suspect, recovered the weapon, and took him to be booked, and there I sat, a murderer’s breath on the back of my neck. Very disconcerting, especially when I got home and realized I had the victim’s blood on my cowboy boot.
It all became very real for me that night, understanding the sacrifices our police make to keep us safe. I try very hard to be realistic and compassionate across all aspects of my writing – for the cops, for the victims, and for the villains. There is never gratuitous violence or faceless victims in my books. Only an examination of the psychology behind serious crimes, and maybe a few creepy scenes thrown in for good measure.
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If you are reading this letter, I am dead and I would be most grateful if you could solve my murder…
Forensic pathologist Dr. Samantha Owens thought life was finally returning to normal after she suffered a terrible personal loss. Settling into her new job at Georgetown University, the illusion is shattered when she receives a disturbing letter from a dead man imploring her to solve his murder. There’s only one catch. Timothy Savage’s death was so obviously the suicide of a demented individual that the case has been closed.
When Sam learns Savage left a will requesting she autopsy his body, she feels compelled to look into the case. Sam’s own postmortem discovers clear signs that Savage was indeed murdered. And she finds DNA from a kidnapped child whose remains were recovered years earlier.
The investigation takes Sam into the shadows of a twenty-year-old mystery that must be solved to determine what really happened to Timothy Savage. Nothing about the case makes sense but it is clear someone is unwilling to let anyone, especially Samantha Owens, discover the truth.
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J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including The Final Cut with Catherine Coulter, When Shadows Fall, Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Visit JTEllison.com for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick orFacebook.com/JTEllison14.
We have a copy of Elizabeth’s novel, WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.
Any parent of a daughter has at some point gotten dragged into the Princesses Debate: what message does it send when we glorify heroines in ball gowns who sing about waiting for their prince to come?
You can breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m not going to get into any of that. What I will do is make a proud stand in defense of Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty, which was the inspiration for my novel While Beauty Slept. Poor Princess Aurora is not on the royal A-list—she’s usually pushed off to the side in any Disney Princess lineup—and the movie she starred in was a flop when it was released in 1959. But it has a striking visual style, one that I found absolutely compelling as I watched the movie over and over with my young daughter. (It was her favorite Disney film for a while, which is not a choice most four-year-girls make—so I guess I owe her some thanks as well.)
Sleeping Beauty doesn’t look like your typical Disney movie. There are a lot of shadows and angular lines, and the villain, Maleficent, has a wonderfully creepy kind of magnetism. You can feel the damp stone of the castle walls and the eerie drama of that moment when Maleficent utters her curse. One day, I decided to sit through a making-of documentary at the end of the video, which explained that the artist who created the movie’s backgrounds and overall look, Eyvald Earle, had been inspired by medieval tapestries. An idea struck me: what if the whole story had been woven into a tapestry to commemorate events that really happened?
What if the whole story were true?
As I wrote While Beauty Slept, I wanted readers to have the same feeling I’d had while watching the movie: a combination of awe and unease, set in a castle that was both glamorous and terrifying. While my take on the Sleeping Beauty story is very different from the Disney version—and definitely isn’t meant for kids—the movie’s style and mood were a huge influence. Without Earle’s artistic vision, I never would have written this book.
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Elizabeth Blackwell, author of While Beauty Slept, holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parenting, Chicago magazine, and the Chicago Tribune, and she is also the author of Frommer’s Chicago guidebook. She spent four years as an editor at North Shore, a lifestyle magazine for the Chicago suburbs, and wrote a weekly small-business column for www.TheStreet.com. In 2006, she won Harlequin’s “Everlasting Love” writing competition, and her first novel, The Letter, was published by Harlequin in 2007, followed by The House of Secrets (Harlequin, 2009).
The amazing publishing team at Doubleday has created a fun giveaway to celebrate the release of this month’s book club selection, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS. If you’ve not had a chance to pick up your copy, fear not! They are giving away ten copies of the novel, along with a gorgeous Tiffany necklace from the Jazz-Age inspired Ziegfeld Collection. (See below)
* Email readers click here for the image.