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.

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

 

 

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Nobody Knows You Better

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Ann Packer | @AnnPackerAuthor

Ann Packer

Ann Packer, photo credit: Elena Seibert

A few weeks ago I woke up from a dream with the words “Nobody knows you better” in my mind.  Actually, it wasn’t just the words; they were accompanied by the tune of “Nobody Does it Better,” the Carly Simon song.  I realized with amusement (and chagrin) that I’d had a book promotion dream.  My new novel The Children’sCrusade revolves around a family, the Blairs of Portola Valley, California, and if there were to be a theme song written for the book, the songwriter could do worse than to start with “Nobody knows you better” sung to the Carly Simon song.

The Blair family consists of Bill, the pediatrician father; Penny, the artist (well, she wants to be an artist) mother; Robert, the striver, the worrier; Rebecca, the smart one, the only girl; Ryan, the sweet one; and James, the miniature wild man, the problem child, the one who can’t seem to settle down even in adulthood.

Who was in your family of origin?  Lots of kids or just you?  How about your family now?  How important is birth order in the way everyone gets along?  Did your parents (do you) parent all the kids in the same way, or do you agree with Rebecca, who says in the novel, “No two siblings have the same parents.  My father was not the same person as Robert’s father.  My mother was not the same person as Ryan’s mother”?

There are characters to love in this book and characters to gape at.  And there’s plenty to debate, starting with the most complicated relationship in the book, the one between mercurial mother Penny and her impulsive youngest, James. And the troubled marriage at the novel’s center: who is more responsible for its problems: seemingly perfect husband Bill or his admittedly difficult wife?

I’m hoping that The Children’s Crusade will give your book club much to ponder about the way families function. One of the pleasures of book clubs is the way discussions of the books you read open outward into probing and far-reaching conversations about life, and I’d love to hear back from you about what you shared and learned about each other’s families and your own.  After all, “nobody knows you better” than your family.

Visit www.annpacker.com or connect with Ann on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1DFjL6u

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The Children's CrusadeAbout the book:

From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story—Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down—their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

Reviewers have praised Ann Packer’s “brilliant ear for character” (The New York Times Book Review), her “naturalist’s vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented” (The New Yorker), and the “utterly lifelike quality of her book’s everyday detail” (The New York Times). Her talents are on dazzling display in The Children’s Crusade, an extraordinary study in character, a rare and wise examination of the legacy of early life on adult children attempting to create successful families and identities of their own. This is Ann Packer’s most deeply affecting book yet.

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When Real Life Inspires Fiction

Today’s post by Jane Shemilt, author of THE DAUGHTER | @JaneShemilt

We’re delighted to introduce you to Jane Shemilt. She’s the author of THE DAUGHTER, one of our spring book club selections, and today she shares a bit about how her real work as a doctor inspired the novel. We hope you enjoy and we hope you stop by your local indie bookstore to pick up a copy.

Jane Shemilt

Jane Shemilt

The Malcolm family in THE DAUGHTER is a family that seems like so many others with growing children; for a working mother, it means running a career and caring for everyone. Jenny, the protagonist of the novel is so busy that she fails to see the secrets that her loved ones have been keeping and the lies they’ve begun to tell.

I loved creating this family; unlike my own, I could make the children and even the husband do exactly what I wanted. It allowed me to play with universal fear: what parent hasn’t known the paralysing terror of a child disappearing and the frantic moments that ensue? It’s the same if your teenager doesn’t come home when she promised; as the moments and hours tick by, the anguish builds. I wanted the reader to ask the same questions that the Malcolm family had to: what if your beloved child stepped into the shadows lurking beyond the bright circle of family life? What if she didn’t come back?

The themes of THE DAUGHTER are about loss and grief and how we survive them. Inspired by my work as a doctor in the dockland area of Bristol, it also looks at how some doctors play God. In its focus on family dynamics it is also about growing up and letting go.

Buried in the heart of the book is hope. Jenny is the mother whose gilded life vanishes, who loses everything it’s possible to lose: her daughter Naomi, her family, her marriage, her career and her home. A year on, in the silence of a small cottage, she paints as consolation; in the picture that evolves of flowers leading to fruit becoming seeds, there is a symbol of new beginning.

At this stage, a year later, is Jenny wrong to hope that emerging evidence might lead her to Naomi? That’s for the reader to find out after navigating twists and turns in the plot, taking the journey with Jenny from shock and trial to hard won strength.

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The DaughterAbout the book:

In the tradition of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Ruth Rendell, this compelling and clever psychological thriller spins the harrowing tale of a mother’s obsessive search for her missing daughter.

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

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Five Historical Novels For Spring

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

For some of us, knowing a story is based on real events, real people or historical research makes it all the more riveting. If novels based on history push all the right buttons for you then these will be perfect for your reading list this spring! Keep your eye out for these titles.

Mademoiselle ChanelMADEMOISELLE CHANEL by CW Gortner

Publisher’s description:

For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.

Scent of TriumphSCENT OF TRIUMPH by Jan Moran

Publisher’s description:

When French perfumer Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for her the remains of her family, relying on the strength and support of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a young captain. Finally, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.

Through determination and talent, she rises high from meager jobs in her quest for success as a perfumer and fashion designer to Hollywood elite. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, Scent of Triumph is one woman’s story of courage, spirit, and resilience.

Girl of my DreamsGIRL OF MY DREAMS by Peter Davis

Publisher’s description:

A sweeping novel of Hollywood in the 1930s, Girl of My Dreams captures the essence of the Golden Age, when Hollywood became the global fantasy capital it remains today.

Screenwriter: The protagonist, Owen Jant, is a young screenwriter who comes of age in the 1930s at the intersection of Hollywood, the Depression, and the heyday of the Communist Party. At every turn, he is finding, and losing, his way.

Hollywood star: The glamorous Palmyra Millevoix—complex, gifted, mysterious—is a star more agitated than pleased by her fame. She could have been Grushenka, siren of the Karamazov saga, if she had not been a Hollywood star.

Studio mogul: Founder of Jubilee Pictures, Mossy Zangwill is not the last tycoon but the last of the old-style chieftains and first of the corporate moderns, clawing his way from a fatherless home in the Bronx to become by his midthirties a rival to the Warners and Mayers, reigning kings of Hollywood. He would resemble Gatsby if Gatsby had gone west.

Propelled by the suicide of an innocent victim of studio politics, Owen falls in wacky, unpromising love with Palmyra, who in turn is relentlessly pursued by Mossy, the autocratic studio head. The drawing and redrawing of the triangle between screenwriter, star, and tycoon—intense, devious, seductive, combative—frames the education of Owen Jant. The story has an epic sweep that encompasses the swagger and flash of 1930s Hollywood and the Great Depression’s plunder of the American dream.

The cast of characters, like the narrative, is expansive: Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, the Prince of Wales, Edward G. Robinson, and the gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Walter Winchell all show up. So do murder, riot, sex, conspiracy, and deception. In the shocking climax to Girl of My Dreams, Owen Jant himself, not without paying a high price, at last climbs the ladder to maturity.

A Fireproof Home For the BrideA FIREPROOF HOME FOR THE BRIDE by Amy Scheibe

Publisher’s description: 

Emmaline Nelson and her sister Birdie grow up in the hard, cold rural Lutheran world of strict parents, strict milking times, and strict morals. Marriage is preordained, the groom practically predestined. Though it’s 1958, southern Minnesota did not see changing roles for women on the horizon. Caught in a time bubble between a world war and the ferment of the 1960’s, Emmy doesn’t see that she has any say in her life, any choices at all. Only when Emmy’s fiancé shows his true colors and forces himself on her does she find the courage to act–falling instead for a forbidden Catholic boy, a boy whose family seems warm and encouraging after the sere Nelson farm life. Not only moving to town and breaking free from her engagement but getting a job on the local newspaper begins to open Emmy’s eyes. She discovers that the KKK is not only active in the Midwest but that her family is involved, and her sense of the firm rules she grew up under–and their effect–changes completely.

Amy Scheibe’s A FIREPROOF HOME FOR THE BRIDE has the charm of detail that will drop readers into its time and place: the home economics class lecture on cuts of meat, the group date to the diner, the small-town movie theater popcorn for a penny. It also has a love story–the wrong love giving way to the right–and most of all the pull of a great main character whose self-discovery sweeps the plot forward.

Tiffany GirlTIFFANY GIRL by Deeanne Gist

Publisher’s description:

As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—seizes the opportunity to unveil his state-of-the-art, stained glass, mosaic chapel, the likes of which the world has never seen.

But when Louis’s dream is threatened by a glassworkers’ strike months before the Fair opens, he turns to an unforeseen source for help: the female students at the Art Students League of New York. Eager for adventure, the young women pick up their skirts, move to boarding houses, take up steel cutters, and assume new identities as the “Tiffany Girls.”

Tiffany Girl is the heartwarming story of the impetuous Flossie Jayne, a beautiful, budding artist who is handpicked by Louis to help complete the Tiffany chapel. Though excited to live in a boarding house when most women stayed home, she quickly finds the world is less welcoming than anticipated. From a Casanova male, to an unconventional married couple, and a condescending singing master, she takes on a colorful cast of characters to transform the boarding house into a home while racing to complete the Tiffany chapel and make a name for herself in the art world.

As challenges mount, her ambitions become threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?

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The Truth About Second Chances

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Marisa De Los Santos | @MarisaDLSantos

We’re delighted to introduce Marisa De Los Santos to you today. Her most recent novel, THE PRECIOUS ONE, is one of our spring book club selections. But she’s also written LOVE WALKED IN, BELONG TO ME, FALLING TOGETHER, and two middle grade novels; SAVING LUCAS BIGGS and CONNECT THE STARS. If you’ve never read one of her novels, please don’t wait any longer. They are, quite simply, beautiful.

Marisa De Los SantosPrior to coming up with the idea for The Precious One, I’d been thinking a lot about second chances, about people walking out of one life and plunging headlong into another. Second chance stories suddenly seemed to be everywhere: a friend moving to Spain and opening a restaurant, another deciding to have a baby after four happily child-free decades. Divorces, remarriages, adoptions, Iron Man triathlons. As a mostly risk-averse, change-wary person, I found these stories irresistible. After all, even if you act out of desperation, remaking your life takes courage. It takes vision.

But what I began to notice is that most of the stories I was reading and hearing were told from the perspective of the person embarking on the new life. I began to wonder about the first-life people, the ones left behind. And that’s when the idea for The Precious One came to me, although calling it an idea is a stretch. It wasn’t even a sentence, just a fragment, not a story but a situation: two sisters, one from their father’s first marriage, one from his second, who don’t know each other at all.

First, Taisy came to me, just the slenderest shadow of her. The first-life sister, a woman in her mid-thirties who had lived half her life all but estranged from her father. Taisy occupied my imagination for months, and I learned her, bit-by-bit. Some weeks, I’d suddenly pop open a window into a whole broad swath of her inner life; others, I’d discover just tiny pieces of Taisy: the color of her hair; her favorite subject in high school; that when she’s worried or contemplative, she drives, aimlessly, sometimes for hours. The development of Taisy felt to me as it always does, not like creation, but like discovery, as if she existed, a real person in the world, and my job was to know her.

The Precious OneEventually I uncovered more of her story, and suddenly, there was her father Wilson, imperious, disapproving, sometimes cruel. And I learned that despite all the reasons she knows she should cut Wilson out of her life, Taisy has never stopped longing for her father to love her. So then Wilson, that brilliant, prickly man, took up residence in my head, and I learned right away that the central fact of his life was his love for his daughter Willow, the second-chance daughter, the precious one. I discovered that Wilson loves her so much that he’s made a project out of it, trying to get every single thing right, to shelter her from not only everything dangerous, but everything ordinary. Initially, I thought Wilson might be my second protagonist, but as soon as Willow emerged, sixteen years old, with her confidence and her vulnerability, her head full of knowledge and her breathtaking naïvete, I knew The Precious One would belong to the sisters.

I knew that if only I could figure out how to get them into each other’s lives, get these two complicated women to collide, amazing things would happen, and my story—their story—would begin.

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The Books of Spring

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and yours truly | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

The Books of Spring

It’s funny how we end up picking our book club selections for each season. There’s always a theme. Always. We don’t plan it this way but it just happens. And this time around the theme is family. These novels take place in different times and places and even countries. But at the heart of each lies a family threatened by disaster, either emotional or literal. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Marybeth and I would be drawn to these novels during this season of our lives. We’ve both made conscious decisions to invest more in our families this year, to pay attention to what’s going on at home. So it makes sense that we would be drawn to stories where family dynamics are at play. And these novels, all very different (a literary novel, a psychological thriller, and a domestic drama) set their stage upon the battleground of the family. Brilliant, really. And very human. So we invite you to read them with us over the next two months and to participate in the various conversations we will have online.

To celebrate the announcement of our Books of Spring, we’ve got a copy of each novel up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

The Precious OneTHE PRECIOUS ONE by Marisa De Los Santos

From the New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.

Read an excerpt of THE PRECIOUS ONE here.

The BooksellerTHE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson

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 an excerpt of THE BOOKSELLER here.

The DaughterTHE DAUGHTER by Jane Shemilt

In the tradition of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Ruth Rendell, this compelling and clever psychological thriller spins the harrowing tale of a mother’s obsessive search for her missing daughter.

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

Read an excerpt of THE DAUGHTER here.

 

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What We’re Into: (Belated) March Edition

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

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Marybeth:

Spring. The loveliness of the blooming flowers and budding leaves is welcome this year more than ever. Goodbye Old Man Winter! Don’t let the door hit ya!

My Ideal Bookshelf. I love spying on other people’s bookshelves and these lovely drawings allow me to not only do that, but to do it in a most satisfying way.

Jenn Hatmaker’s thoughts on why we have made parenting too precious. This post went viral for good reason.

This Easter bark for the kiddos.

The Pandora Spring Break 1985 station. Ah, the memories!

Listening to THE FRINGE HOURS on audio while I’m doing things around the house.

Thinking about habits– and learning about my habit tendency– thanks to this book.

This movie. And this one. And seeing this one in the theater for the 30th anniversary!! Highly nostalgic.

Writing outside on pretty days at a small lake near my home. The singing birds, the light spring breeze, and the warm days all seem to aid my creativity. It’s so nice to be outdoors!

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Ariel:

Opening the windows. It’s a small thing, really, but after such a long and miserable winter it feels like freedom to open the windows.

House hunting. It’s a long story for another day but my family is currently in the market for a new home. Preferably one that comes with a really big yard. With four boys and a shedding dog we need space to run outside.

The audio version of INKSPELL, read by Brendan Fraser. It’s no secret that I struggle with audio books. The fault is mine entirely. My mother read to me as a child and her voice is perfect and I expect all audiobook narrators to sound like her and none of them do so I protest by not listening at all. That said, I’ve heard that INKSPELL is amazing and since I read INKHEART to the boys last year I thought I’d dip my toe in the world of audiobooks with this one. And it was a very good choice. Brendan Fraser is simply brilliant.

And finally, I am very much into these shoes right now. I bought them in February, when the driveway was buried under three inches of ice, as my way of sticking it to Old Man Winter. Also, they are red and they are Tom’s and how can anyone resist a pretty wedge heel like this?

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What We Learned In March

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

So yes, March is two days behind us but it’s lessons are still fresh in our minds and we figure you may as well learn from our mistakes. Or, as we often tell our children, “Do I say, not as I do.” That said, here’s a bit of what we learned in March.

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Marybeth:

It’s not wrong or lazy to take a lunch break. It’s restorative and healthy. I’ve been making myself stop what I’m doing, make a lunch with a plate and sit down to eat– either at the table or on my couch. I read or watch a DVR’ed show and spend about 30 minutes just relaxing. I do not work on anything. This 30 minutes is a nice reset button for my day. I can’t believe I didn’t do it long before now.

Spring cleaning is a good thing, but it doesn’t has to be accomplished in a day, or even a week. It can be tackled bit by bit over the course of a whole month. I had high hopes of our family tackling it together over a weekend but… that didn’t happen. Illness and conflicting schedules conspired to have us all in different places at different times. So instead I’ve been whittling away at this list as I can. The list can seem daunting– it’s quite thorough!– but I use it as a suggestion list, not a taskmaster. I printed it out and have it in a page protector so I can keep it clean as I continually return to it.

Church is a touchstone of my week. I will admit I don’t always want to go– sometimes I just want to sleep in and be lazy. But it’s always best when I go. It gets me back on track and sets a nice tone for the coming week. It gets me out of my own head and into a more productive and positive state of mind. I’m never sorry I went.

It was good to bring my treadmill out of storage. (We’d moved it in order to make more room in our house.) I’d been running/walking outside with some consistency but colder temps and rain over the winter kept waylaying any consistency I managed to build up. The treadmill being back in the house means I have no excuse not to get my exercise in. That’s a good thing.

I really like speaking. I went back to speaking to women’s groups this month– doing two events on back-to-back weekends, sharing my “More To Your Story” message. I shared with the women how the elements of story I use when writing a novel apply to their own personal story. The response was amazing and I enjoyed the whole experience immensely. I am looking forward to booking more events for the coming fall.

Ariel:

Horizontal stripes are never a good idea. Yes, it’s rather late to learn this lesson (I’ll be 37 in July) but I bought this shirt and then had the poor judgement to let someone photograph me while wearing it and the result were decidedly not awesome. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m a grown woman and I can wear an ugly shirt if I want to. I just won’t wear it out in public.

Yoga is worth the hype. I’ve heard about it for years. And most people I know swear by it. But it just seemed so…gentle and easy and mellow and I’ve always gone for the old school forms of torture like running and weight resistance. But there’s something about having a body that falls between young and old that makes you want to be a little kinder to yourself. So I tried yoga. And I LOVE it. But I’m on deadline at the moment and every waking hour is precious so I’ve had to put it aside until I finish my book. The thing I’m most excited about once I type “The End?” Returning to my yoga routine. That hour of stretchy-bendy-grueling (and yes, yoga is a serious workout) exercise is something I’m really looking forward to.

Don’t dry your favorite jeans. My sister taught me this trick and it has not only extended the life of my jeans but kept me sane as well. Few things are more demoralizing in this life than pulling on a pair of clean jeans only to realize that they have either shrunk an entire size (news flash: they actually have–that’s what the dryer heat does to them) or the exact opposite has happened to me. Just trust me. Don’t dry your jeans.

Get out of the house on a regular basis. So I’m on deadline. And that’s wonderful and I love my job. But since I work from home the temptation is to sit around in leggings and drink coffee is almost irresistable. But I learned something this month: I’m far more productive when I leave the house to work because there is a ticking clock. I can’t waste time doing laundry or unloading the dishwasher. I’ve got four kids in two different schools and and they must be picked up at set times. So I have to be there in the car pool line waiting. Which  means I have to be productive during the work hours that I have. This has been a game changer for me. I highly recommend working outside the house at least two days a week. Three would be better.

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The Big Fat Lie Of The Author Bio

Today’s post by Ellen Potter | @EllenPotter

It’s April Fools Day and since this is the one day of the year that lying is expected, we thought we would repost this article from September of 2010. It’s still true. It’s still funny. And since award winning children’s author, Ellen Potter, has a new book out in three days, we thought it only fitting to share with you again.

I have a confession to make. Every time I read an author’s bio I become insanely jealous. Authors always seem to be nestled in valleys or perched on mountains, surrounded by adoring spouses and a gaggle of little ones who don’t need any help wiping. When the bio says “She has five golden retrievers” I can quite plainly see them all sitting obediently at the author’s feet in her well-appointed writing room, their coats gleaming from a meticulous brushing. I can see said-author tapping away at her computer keys, glancing up every now and then to gaze contemplatively at the mountain/valley/ocean view from her writing room. A knock on the door.

“Honey, would you like a fresh cup of coffee?”

“Yes, my love. Are the children behaving?”

“Like angels. Don’t worry your pretty head about them.”

Ahhh. When you squish an author’s life down to three or four sentences, you can’t help but make it sound enviable. Tidy, picturesque. No bad smells. It’s just not fair.

Never, NEVER does an author bio say:

She lives in a house which is perpetually being renovated by boozy, perspiring construction guys, located on a woody road plagued with black flies in the summer and black ice in the winter.  She is surrounded by her loving family who do not pick up after themselves and leave the soy milk out of the refrigerator all night. Her poorly-groomed dogs have chronic ear infections. She spends her days trying to find time to shower. Oh, and also, she writes.

See, now THERE is an honest author bio. That’s all I’m saying.

This is for a profile of children's author Ellen Potter, whose most recent book, "The Humming Room" -- a modern retelling of the claEllen Potter is the author of several middle-grade novels, including the award-winning Olivia Kidney series, Pish Posh, SLOB, and The Kneebone Boy. Her non-fiction book, Spilling Ink; a Young Writer’s Handbook, was co-authored by Anne Mazer Olivia Kidney was awarded Child magazine’s “Best Children’s Book Award” and was selected as one of the “Books of the Year” by Parenting magazine. Additionally, it was one of the finalists for the Ottakar’s Children’s Book Prize in the United Kingdom. SLOB was selected for the Junior Library Guild Spring 2009 List and the 2010 Texas Lone Star Reading List. Her newest novel is Piper Green and the Fairy Tree.

(This article was originally reprinted by permission from www.ellenpotter.com on September 27th, 2010.)

 

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Piper Green And the Fairy TreeFrom award-winning author Ellen Potter comes a charming new illustrated early chapter book series set on an island off the coast of Maine, where kids, lobster boats, and a hint of magic are part of everyday life.

There are three things you should know about Piper Green:
1. She always says what’s on her mind (even when she probably shouldn’t).
2. She rides a lobster boat to school.
3. There is a Fairy Tree in her front yard.

Life on an island in Maine is always interesting. But when a new teacher starts at Piper’s school—and doesn’t appreciate the special, um, accessory that Piper has decided to wear—there may be trouble on the horizon. Then Piper discovers the Fairy Tree in her front yard. Is the Fairy Tree really magic? And can it fix Piper’s problems?

Reader friends: do you prefer to imagine your favorite author leading an exotic lifestyle? Or do you want to hear the honest, chaotic truth? 

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