“But When” The Moment That Changes Everything

Today’s post by Natalie Harnett | @NatalieSHarnett

Pay attention and you’ll notice something. It’s a phrase, often used in book descriptions or back cover copy: “But When.” It sounds simple enough but it changes everything. “But when an old friend comes to visit…” Or, “But when her son goes missing…” That single phrase is the beginning of everything going wrong for a character (and, let’s face it, for us as well). When we really began to pay attention to this phrase we thought it was time to begin a new series. So we have invited a number of authors to share the “but when” moment in their new novels. And up first we have Natalie Harnett, author of THE HOLLOW GROUND.

Natalie Harnett

Natalie Harnett

It took me a while to figure out the “But When. . .” moment in THE HOLLOW GROUND.  From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to tell a story about a coal mining family after the coal mines shut down.  But it was only during my research that I learned about the devastating coal mine fires that took place in Centralia and Carbondale, PA. Once I learned about those fires, I knew I wanted to write about them. The only problem was that I’d already written an entire draft of the novel!  So. . .I scrapped that draft and started again.

This was, of course, painful. Yet it wound up actually helpful because it helped me create a stronger, clearer plot.  I knew that to tell the story of the family and of the fires I had to create events that involved each.  I knew that crucial “But When. . .” moment had to come early and had to be dramatic.  After all, it would be the event that would take my main character, a young girl, out of her ordinary world and into the world that would ultimately change her.

These fires have all sorts of terrible, jaw-dropping consequences.  They cause subsistence, gas poisoning, steaming ground.  They also cause sinkholes.  I thought, what if there was a sinkhole that sunk part of the house and nearly killed the young girl’s beloved auntie?  I worked on a draft of this scene but found multiple problems with it.  I mean, how does only part of a house sink into the ground?  I thought it was too unbelievable to have the entire house sink. Also I wanted the auntie and the girl and her family to survive.  So then did I have some of them able to crawl out and some of them not home at the time?

It was getting too complicated.  Then I worked on a draft where just the shed sunk and the auntie nearly died.  But this didn’t seem dramatic enough. Finally I did what I’d never had the nerve to do before.  I decided to have a beloved character die, and die early.  I decided that the shed and the auntie would sink into the ground.  The house would be condemned and the girl would lose not only an auntie, who was her best friend, but her home. It was simple and massively dramatic and set the girl off on her journey.

At that time, I thought I was fictionalizing having someone die in a coal-fire sinkhole.  In my research I’d come across only one account of a person falling into a sinkhole in Centralia, and he was miraculously able to save himself by pulling at tree roots and calling for help. I’ve since learned of a couple in the Wilkes-Barre area who disappeared into one while walking to church. That is one of many disturbing stories someone has told me at an event. Last week, at an event in Northeastern PA , a woman told me of a neighbor’s house that sunk into a hole. I’m talking about the entire house.  At another event, a woman told me a story about her grandmother’s house.  Her grandmother was walking down the cellar stairs.  The light was at the bottom.  As she was walking down, she had a bad feeling.  When she reached the bottom step, she flicked on the light and the entire basement floor was gone.  It had sunk into the ground, but the house was still standing.  If I’d heard that story before completing the novel, that is how I would have had the auntie die.  It seems too impossible to be true, but that’s the nature of these fires.  They stretch the limits of our imagination and lend themselves quite well to fiction.

* * *

The Hollow GroundWe walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet.

The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced eleven-year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the black lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the “curse” laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades-old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Inspired by real-life events in Centralia and Carbondale, where devastating coal mine fires irrevocably changed the lives of residents, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Lovers of literary fiction will find in Harnett’s young, determined protagonist a character as heartbreakingly captivating as any in contemporary literature.

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The Books Of Fall

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

The Books Of Fall

It is September 1st and that means that it is officially Fall. This is hard, we know. We’re struggling with it a bit ourselves. There’s always a twinge of sadness that comes with the passing of summer. A loss, of sorts. And yet there is beauty in this new season as well. Where Summer means joy and adventure and freedom, Fall means warmth, and hope, and comfort. And with that in mind, we chose our book club selections for Fall. We’ll be discussing four books between now and the end of the November. It is our great delight to bring you a zany social commentary, a sweeping historical romp, a heartwarming family drama, and a poignant murder mystery. We’ll introduce you to the authors (all of them acclaimed and established) and show you how these stories came to be. You’ll get a glimpse into their writing processes an their writing spaces. And, we hope, you will find at least one new favorite novel. If your reading time is limited this Fall (and we get it, life is crazy-busy) then we hope you will put these at the very top of your list. You won’t regret a day you spend with any of these stories.

So, without further ado, we give you The Books of Fall:

The AdmissionsTHE ADMISSIONS by Meg Mitchell Moore

THE ADMISSIONS brilliantly captures the frazzled pressure cooker of modern life as a seemingly perfect family comes undone by a few desperate measures, long-buried secrets—and college applications!

The Hawthorne family has it all. Great jobs, a beautiful house in one of the most affluent areas of northern California, and three charming kids with perfectly straight teeth. And then comes their eldest daughter’s senior year of high school . . .

Firstborn Angela Hawthorne is a straight-A student and star athlete, with extracurricular activities coming out of her ears and a college application that’s not going to write itself. She’s set her sights on Harvard, her father’s alma mater, and like a dog with a chew toy, Angela won’t let up until she’s basking in crimson-colored glory. Except her class rank as valedictorian is under attack, she’s suddenly losing her edge at cross-country, and she can’t help but daydream about the cute baseball player in English class. Of course Angela knows the time put into her schoolgirl crush would be better spent coming up with a subject for her term paper—which, along with her college essay and community service hours has a rapidly approaching deadline.

Angela’s mother, Nora, is similarly stretched to the limit, juggling parent-teacher meetings, carpool, and a real-estate career where she caters to the mega rich and super-picky buyers and sellers of the Bay Area. The youngest daughter, Maya, still can’t read at the age of eight; the middle-child, Cecily, is no longer the happy-go-lucky kid she once was; and the dad, Gabe, seems oblivious to the mounting pressures at home because a devastating secret of his own might be exposed. A few ill-advised moves put the Hawthorne family on a heedless collision course that’s equal parts achingly real and delightfully screwball.

Sharp and topical, THE ADMISSIONS shows that if you pull at a loose thread, even the sturdiest of lives start to unravel at the seams of high achievement.

A Curious BeginningA CURIOUS BEGINNING by Deanna Raybourn

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

The Perfect Comeback of Carlone JacobsTHE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS by Matthew Dicks

Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.

Caroline’s outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback . . . some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.

THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It’s the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more.

The Last SeptemberTHE LAST SEPTEMBER by Nina de Gramont

“When I look back now, it hurtles toward us like a meteor. But at the time we were too wrapped up in our day-to-day life to see it. Charlie and I lived in a borrowed house by the ocean. Our daughter, Sarah, was fifteen months old. September had just arrived, emptying the beaches at the very moment they became most spectacular.”

Brett has been in love with Charlie ever since he took her skiing on a lovely Colorado night fourteen years ago. And now, living in a seaside cottage on Cape Cod with their young daughter, it looks as if they have settled into the life they desired. However, Brett and Charlie’s marriage has been tenuous for quite some time. When Charlie’s unstable younger brother plans to move in with them, the tension simmering under the surface of their marriage boils over.

But what happened to Charlie next was unfathomable. Charlie was the golden boy so charismatic that he charmed everyone who crossed his path; who never shied away from a challenge; who saw life as one big adventure; who could always rescue his troubled brother, no matter how unpredictable the situation.

So who is to blame for the tragic turn of events? And why does Brett feel responsible?

Set against the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, THE LAST SEPTEMBER is a riveting emotional puzzle that takes readers inside the psyche of a woman facing the meaning of love and loyalty.

Also, if you haven’t yet heard, we are partnering with the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) next month to host Triangle Reads, a first-of-it’s-kind readers event in Raleigh, North Carolina. We hope you’ll come, and that you’ll bring your book club as well, so we can finally have a chance to meet you in person. The ticket price (all proceeds benefit SIBA) includes lunch, a $20 voucher to buy books, and an afternoon spent with two dozen of the most amazing authors you’ll ever meet (but hurry, registration ends September 10th). And one of those authors will be Deanna Raybourn herself. She’ll be there discussing A CURIOUS BEGINNING–a book that I (Ariel) absolutely adored.

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What We (Were) Into This Summer

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

Founder's Collage.jpg

Three things have occupied our minds in August: preparing and planning for Triangle Reads (Our first live event! We’d LOVE for you to join us, but hurry, registration ends September 10th), getting our kids back to school, and finalizing our picks for fall. We can’t tell you what our fall selections are yet–but check back tomorrow!

We appeared together on camera— gulp!– talking about why being a mom who reads is important and why we’re so excited about Triangle Reads. Y’all the lineup of authors at this event is SO amazing. Do NOT miss it!

But since we didn’t run one of these posts all summer we thought we’d give you a glimpse into the things that we loved about this summer.


August is always a busy month for me. My husband and I celebrated our 24th anniversary with a getaway to lovely Savannah Georgia. Dinner at The Olde Pink House was divine, and our strolls along the picturesque streets and squares were romantic and inspiring. We also celebrate our first and last children’s birthdays in the month of August. Our oldest turned 23 and our youngest turned 10.


This month meant sending our older three back off to their respective college and young adult lives, and getting our younger three back into the classroom. Our fourth started a new high school. Our fifth has taken up cross country for his middle school and is loving it. Our youngest is back to her art lessons which makes her happy. Life is slowly becoming more routine—much as I personally hate to let go of the lazy, hazy days of summer (my favorite season!).

Marybeth's Summer


My husband and I had not been on a proper vacation in nine years. NINE YEARS. But we were finally able to remedy that this summer by going to Cozumel. We decided to take our older children because they’re both in Middle School this year and we felt like they needed some time alone with us before this big life change. And it was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. We swam and ate and lounged around in the sun for five whole days. Our boys went on a plane for the first time. They chased iguanas for the first time. They went out of the country for the first time. And we were able to connect with them in ways we’ve been able to before.

Cozumel Collage

I finished FLIGHT OF DREAMS! (I’ll show you the cover next week) I turned the book in at the end of April but much of this summer was spent editing and then line editing and then copy editing. And then, after that, going through first pass pages. The making of a book is a long, arduous process, but I’m so glad that it will be out in the world in a few short months.



In getting back to school, posts like this have been helpful. Though we like getting back into a routine, we don’t relish packing lunches!

And we love this list of 18 movies book lovers should watch. Yes, please!


RISING STRONG by Brene Brown

SIMPLY TUESDAY by Emily Freeman



DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight

THE FALL OF PRINCES by Robert Goolrick

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Introducing Modern Mrs. Darcy

Today’s post by Anne Bogel | @AnneBogel

We’re thrilled to introduce you to our new friend and literary cohort, Anne Bogel. Or, as most people know her, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne Will be joining us at Triangle Reads where she will moderate our headline event with Elin Hilderbrand. If you’ve not bought your ticket now is the time to do so! We’d love to meet you. And we’d love to meet your book club as well. For the first time ever the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is opening its yearly trade show to the public and we’ve been given the incredible honor or organizing this event for them. Inviting Anne to participate was the very first decision we made. And as you’ll see from her post below, it was the right one.

Modern Mrs. DarcyI sat down to coffee with a newish friend recently. Before I could take my first sip, she urged, “Tell me your favorite novel. Or a book that’s changed your life. I want to read more, and I need some ideas.”

I love talking books with friends, but as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized that she’d just asked me an extremely personal question.

Aside from the sheer impossibility of choosing just one favorite book, her question was daunting for another reason: I felt like I’d been asked to lay my soul on the table.

A. J. Fikry, a wise man despite his fictional status, says, “You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question,What is your favorite book?” I wasn’t sure if I was ready for her to know everything she needed to know about me.

I could tell her one of my favorites is Brideshead Revisited. I’ve read it a half dozen times; it’s the only one I’ve enjoyed by Waugh. I love it because it’s haunting and complex, filled with poetry and metaphor, and because it doesn’t end happily. What do those things say about me? Or perhaps, if my friend hasn’t read it, she’d think my choice meant I was the kind of person who was hung up on some stodgy old classic?

I could tell her I adore Crossing to Safety, for its wistful story and gorgeous prose, and Stegner’s ability to conjure a moving tale out of the mundane events of ordinary life. That might brand me as a hopeless romantic, an armchair philosopher, or maybe just a snob who only reads Serious Fiction.

Since my friend wanted book recommendations, I could tell her some of my favorites that were actually published in the last decade. I loved Outlander: maybe she’d think I was the kind of person who enjoyed a good story, well told. Or maybe she’d think I was one of those women hung up on the steamy scenes featuring 18th century Scottish warriors.

I could recommend a fun, lighthearted, easy-reading novel, like Love Walked In. It’s a practically perfect romantic comedy, even if it’s probably not a book that will change your life. Maybe my friend would think I was fun, lighthearted, and easy-going. Or maybe she’d think I only ever read chick lit.

Despite my reservations, I recommended all these titles to her, and more. (And I’m happy to report she purchased All the Light We Cannot See the same afternoon we met up.) Because I love good books, and I love reading. And while reading is often viewed as a solitary act, it’s also a social one.

Readers love to connect over good books. If I read a book that changes my life, or a book that becomes a new favorite, or even a breezy novel that’s tons of fun, I can’t wait to talk about it with other readers. So when my friend asked, I answered cautiously—but how could I help but answer?

“What’s your favorite book?” is a personal question. That makes it a little dangerous, but it also opens the door to fantastic conversations and meaningful relationships. Shakespeare said that the eyes are the window to the soul, but we readers know one’s bookshelves reveal just as much.

Question for you: So what IS your favorite book? Also, aren’t you just a little bit tempted to join us at Triangle Reads?

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Author to Author Interview: The Secrets Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Karen Katchur and Stephanie Butland | @KarenKatchur and @Under_Blue_Sky

Welcome back for the second part of our interview with Karen Katchur and Stephanie Butland! If you missed part one you can read it here.

Also, if you haven’t yet heard, we are partnering with the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) next month to host Triangle Reads, a first-of-it’s-kind readers event in Raleigh, North Carolina. We hope you’ll come, and that you’ll bring your book club as well, so we can finally have a chance to meet you in person. The ticket price (all proceeds benefit SIBA) includes lunch, a $22 voucher to buy books, and an afternoon spent with two dozen of the most amazing authors you’ll ever meet.

Secrets Collage

Karen: The book was originally released with the title SURROUNDED BY WATER. What was the reason for changing the title to THE SECRETS WE KEEP?

Stephanie: Ah, that’s only the half of it! ‘Surrounded by Water’ was the original UK hardback title in the UK. It was my title; I thought it was beautiful and poetic and would make elegant sense to readers when they’d finished the book. When my UK publishers were looking at the paperback publication they pointed out, very gently, that maybe a title that makes sense after you’ve read it might not make a lot of sense, marketing-wise! So they changed the paperback title to ‘Letters To My Husband’. Meanwhile the German title translates as ‘The Truth Of The Water’, and the US decided on ‘The Secrets We Keep’! My second novel, which is out in October in the UK, is called ‘The Other Half Of My Heart’ – but it had at least six titles before we fixed on that one. I’m going to stick to what’s inside the covers from now on and leave the outside to publishers!

Karen: What was the inspiration for writing this book?

Stephanie: After writing two memoirs about my dance with cancer, I really wanted to try my hand at fiction. I started on a comic novel about a committee but got stuck. The feedback I got on that was that the standout element was the letters Elizabeth wrote to her dead husband and so I started again from there. It took a few goes to find the story, but I enjoyed every stage.

Karen: The image of water is a significant theme throughout the book. What made you choose water as a theme or was it something that came out organically while you writing the story?

Stephanie: Water is such a powerful thing. It cleans us, it sustains us, it’s a danger to us, we think it can be controlled and then it bursts banks and wrecks our worlds. You could say the same things about love and grief; water felt like the perfect image for Elizabeth’s journey.

Karen: You previously described your writing as emotionally intelligent. It absolutely is. The grief experienced by each of your characters was as individualized as the characters themselves. What type of research helped you identify the way your characters grieved or did that come straight from the characters themselves?

Stephanie: I think it came from the characters. Elizabeth grieves the way she does partly from the directness of her loss, of course, but also because she is far from her native home and has lost the thing that anchored her to the world she’s living in. Kate is young and has only the coping strategy of the teenage girl: close your bedroom door, cry, take it out on your parents, ignore things and hope they will go away. Patricia has experienced deep grief before and so she recognizes it and allows it to walk alongside her, with a spirit of endurance, without fuss. Michael’s colleague Blake is stoic about loss but it has a quiet, transformative effect on him and his life – you’ll see more of that in the next book!

Karen: What do you want your readers to take away from THE SECRETS WE KEEP?

Stephanie: That’s a really good question! I didn’t write it with a moral in mind but I suppose it’s about remembering that everything we do, however thoughtless or insignificant at the time, can have repercussions later. Life is complicated. Books like mine and yours help us to explore and remember that.

Karen: Two of your characters meet over pumpkin jam. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds delicious. Do you have a favorite recipe for pumpkin jam that you could share with us?

Stephanie: In the UK we are terrible with pumpkins – we only really use them to make Halloween lanterns and, if we’re brave, we might make the innards into soup. I think the characters joke about it because it’s out of the ordinary! So no, I don’t have a recipe – but I do have one for the ginger cake mentioned at the same point in the story. It’s my mother’s recipe and it really is delicious. (So delicious that it turns up in the second book too, eaten for breakfast, spread with butter!)

Helen Breeze’s Gingerbread

You will need:

2 sticks of butter

1 1/4 (one and a quarter) cups of soft brown sugar

8 tablespoons of light corn syrup (we use Golden Syrup in the UK but I don’t think it crosses the Atlantic!)

4 cups of all-purpose flour

1 heaped tablespoon ground ginger

3 level teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 beaten eggs

10 fl oz warm milk

2 level teaspoons baking soda

Baking pan 7 inches square and 3 inches deep, base lined with baking parchment. (The mixture is very runny so you will need a solid pan, not a loose-bottomed one.)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Farenheit/ gas mark 3.

Melt the butter, sugar and light corn syrup together in a pan, gently, over a low heat.

In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, ginger and cinnamon.

Add the melted ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

Add the eggs, warm milk and baking soda and mix well.

The mixture will be very runny – that’s OK!

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour and a half.

Leave it to cool in the tin.

Store in an airtight tin.

(Also freezes well.)

* * *

The Secrets We KeepA tragic accident, a broken heart, and a marriage drowning in secrets…

Mike always walks the dog in the evening while Elizabeth relaxes in the bathtub―but one night he doesn’t come back. Mike has drowned while saving a teenage girl named Kate, his dog standing on the bank barking frantically as the police pull his body from the water.

But despite her husband being lauded as a hero, Elizabeth can’t wrap her mind around the fact that Mike is gone―and Kate won’t reveal the details of what really happened that night.

Elizabeth finds herself facing the unfathomable possibility that she may not have known her husband at all. Does she really want to know the truth? Or will the weight of Mike’s secrets pull her under?

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Author to Author Interview: The Secrets Edition, Part One

Today’s post by Karen Katchur and Stephanie Butland | @KarenKatchur and @Under_Blue_Sky

Secrets. Every good novel has them. (Also, it’s worth noting that “Secrets” is a hot new trend in book titles at the moment.) Karen Katchur and Stephanie Butland have each written novels that center around tragic drownings and the secrets involved. So of course it made perfect sense to have them sit down and discuss the similarities, differences, and challenges involved in writing such emotional books.

Also, if you haven’t yet heard, we are partnering with the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) next month to host Triangle Reads, a first-of-it’s-kind readers event in Raleigh, North Carolina. We hope you’ll come, and that you’ll bring your book club as well, so we can finally have a chance to meet you in person. The ticket price (all proceeds benefit SIBA) includes lunch, a $22 voucher to buy books, and an afternoon spend with two dozen of the most amazing authors you’ll ever meet.

Secrets Collage

Stephanie: I raced through this, desperate to find out what happened next. I’m guessing the writing process was a little slower…. how did you approach writing the novel? What sparked the idea?

Karen: My process is slow and a bit messy. I go into a story knowing one or two characters, the event I’m building my fiction around, and a vague idea about the climax or black moment. Basically, I sit down and write the first draft without much plotting at all.

The idea for the novel started taking shape in the back of my mind one night when I was sitting around the table with my mother and sister reminiscing about the lake where my grandmother owned a cabin. We were talking about how when I was nine or ten years old, a young teenage boy had drowned there. I’ve never forgotten watching them drag the lake, searching for him, and how scared and helpless I had felt. The tragedy has never left me and although I have many happy memories of the lake, there will always be something dark and frightening about it as well. It really made for a perfect setting for a suspense novel.

Stephanie: The world of this book is full of rules, spoken and unspoken, and the only way for anyone to move on, it seemed to me, was to break a few of them. Do you think of your characters as rebels?

Karen: Interesting question! I didn’t think of my characters as rebels until you mentioned it, but yes, to some extent, each character breaks a rule in one form or another in order to grow. Without giving too much away, I’ll give an example of a small rule Gram, Jo’s mother and Caroline’s grandmother, breaks that sets the tone for later confrontations with the lake association. When Gram first buys the cabin, she sticks it to the association by naming her cabin, The Pop Inn, rather than conforming to the request that all cabins be named after birds. It was Gram’s way of saying she wouldn’t be controlled by Frank Heil, the president of the association. This minor detail sets up years of conflict that peaks at a time when the community needs to join together when a little girl goes missing from the beach.

I love writing about small towns because you can give them their own set of politics and quirks. When one of your characters doesn’t conform to the town’s rules there is automatic conflict.

Stephanie: Caroline, the heroine of the story (to me, anyway – I loved her!) goes through some pretty seismic changes. I thought you captured where she is – the time stuck between girl and woman and not really wanting to be either – brilliantly. Where did Caroline come from?

Karen: Caroline was the first character that “spoke” to me. When I set out to write her character I knew I wanted to capture that precarious time when a girl is not yet a teenager, but no longer a child, either. It’s such a vulnerable, confusing age. I very much wanted Caroline to go through the changes of being tossed from the security of childhood into a world she suddenly sees as unsafe. I often wonder how many of us can think back to an event, big or small, where we first realized the world wasn’t the place we thought it to be.

Stephanie: You write about some tough things in a pretty fearless way. (The snappers were terrifying!) How was researching this book? Did any of it scare you?

Karen: The snappers were a bit of fun research for me. They were such a big part of life on the lake when I was growing up. It was like one of those kids’ games you played that were one part scary and the other part fun. One minute you were swimming with your friends, the next minute someone was yelling, “Snapper!” And you were racing for the shore, frightened, but laughing at the same time. For the most part, snappers are not dangerous. However, they will defend themselves if trapped or scared, so watch out for their mouth and claws!

I also spent a considerable amount of time interviewing an Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team. The work they do is amazing. I was shocked to learn the amount of training they are required to go through and the risks involved. If anything scares me, it’s my concern for their safety every time they respond to a call.

Stephanie: So… what’s next for you? Are you working on something new? Can you tell us anything about it?

Karen: I’m busy working on my next novel. I’m not ready to share the details of it yet. I can say that it’s another story set in a small town in the Poconos, and there is a mystery surrounding an unfortunate event.

Stephanie: What’s your idea of a perfect summer?

Karen: I’m a summertime girl so they’re all perfect! Any time I get to sit down with a good book, whether it’s by the ocean, lake, or poolside, is a perfect summer day to me.

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Secrets of Lake Road, TheA haunting story about the destructive power of secrets, The Secrets of Lake Road is an accomplished and gripping suspenseful women’s fiction debut.

Jo has been hiding the truth about her role in her high school boyfriend’s drowning for sixteen years. Every summer, she drops her children off with her mother at the lakeside community where she spent summers growing up, but cannot bear to stay herself; everything about the lake reminds her of the guilt she feels. For her daughter Caroline, however, the lake is a precious world apart; its familiarity and sameness comforts her every year despite the changes in her life outside its bounds. At twelve years old and caught between childhood and adolescence, she longs to win her mother’s love and doesn’t understand why Jo keeps running away.

Then seven-year-old Sara Starr goes missing from the community beach. Rescue workers fail to uncover any sign of her–but instead dredge up the bones Jo hoped would never be discovered, shattering the quiet lakeside community’s tranquility. Caroline was one of the last people to see Sara alive on the beach, and feels responsible for her disappearance. She takes it upon herself to figure out what happened to the little girl. As Caroline searches for Sara, she uncovers the secrets her mother has been hiding, unraveling the very foundation of everything she knows about herself and her family. The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur is a riveting novel that is impossible to put down and hard to forget.

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Summer Reading Series: Emily Liebert

Today’s post by Emily Liebert | @EmilyLiebert

It is with great sadness that we bring our summer reading series to a close. Though, to be honest, we couldn’t think of a better author or novel to send us on our way. Emily Liebert’s third novel, THOSE SECRETS WE KEEP, is rising to the top of to-be-read lists everywhere and if you haven’t read it yet, you should remedy that immediately. Also, we’d love t know what your favorite summer read has been!

Summer Reading Series

Summer is my favorite time of year. Hands down. The days are longer. The trees are lusher. The laughing is louder. Overall, the urgent pace of life slows down, if only a little. And there’s nothing more enticing than reclining in the great outdoors with a good book and an ice cold beer. These are some of the hot new titles I’ll be cozying up with on my brand new hammock (note to self: buy brand new hammock).

WHO DO YOU LOVE by Jennifer Weiner

I’ve long been a Jennifer Weiner fan. Her characters are perfectly flawed. And her wry sense of humor is right in line with my own. In her new novel—out August 11th—Weiner tells the story of Rachel Blum and Andy Landis, who met at eight years old in an ER waiting room. While their lives moved in separate directions, over the next three decades, they meet again and again serendipitously. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into what promises to be an epic love story.


If you’d told me a decade ago that I’d write a novel that would publish on the same day as Judy Blume’s, I probably would have named my first born after you. Not only did I read every one of her books growing up, but her novel SUMMER SISTERS is what made me want to become an author. And, wait, that’s not even the best part. Are you ready? My great-grandfather, Dr. Kalb, is in this book (page 113)! Mentioned by name! Wild, right? Still not the only reason I want to read her latest. It’s about generations of family, friends, and strangers whose lives were irreversibly altered when a succession of airplanes dropped from the sky (that part is true). Intriguing, right?


I’m a couple of months behind on this one (it’s hard to find time to read for pleasure!). But news on “the street” is that Jessica Knoll’s debut is scandalous. And, let me tell you, I love me some scandal. Throw in a leading lady with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and a handsome blue blood fiancé, who’s hiding a haunting secret, and I’m good to go. Not to mention that she had me at the cover.

HOW TO BE A GROWN-UP by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

Who doesn’t love Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus? With eight novels under their belts, they’re at it again with their new book about a forty-plus wife and mother forced to return to the workforce in the wake of her husband losing his job and declaring that he feels like “taking a break” from being a husband and father. Sounds like a delicious and witty treat of a read to me!

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ThoseSecrets_HighResThree women. Three lives. Three secrets.

On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing….

Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why….

As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape.

When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with the idyllic location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever….

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Summer Reading Series: Cecilia Galante

Today’s post by Cecilia Galante | @CeciliaGalante5

Cecilia Galante’s debut adult novel (she typically writes Middle Grade and Young Adult), THE INVISIBLES, released this month to much acclaim and we jumped at the opportunity to include her in this series. We think you’ll find that her taste is impeccable and that her novel sounds amazing!

Summer Reading Series

Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout

I would read three sentences in the sand if Elizabeth Strout wrote them, and that still doesn’t adequately express how much I love her writing. I know that this first novel of hers, while not nearly as acclaimed as the Pulitzer winning Olive Kitteredge, will be just as moving and luminous.

Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller

Fiercely intelligent and always independent, Fuller describes the year-long process of an unraveling marriage and her move to the United States from Africa (where she grew up) in gorgeous, unsentimental prose. A must for all women seeking their place in the world – and isn’t that all of us?

What Jamie Saw, by Carolyn Coman

I normally don’t recommend middle-grade literature for adult women, but after reading the first chapter of this book, I knew I’d stumbled across something nearly perfect. This is one of those books that will change me – for the better. The deeper.

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

My greatest fear is that while the publication of a second Harper Lee novel is something close to a miracle, it was not in fact what she wanted. I’m still debating whether or not to buy the book, but my gut tells me I will.

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The InvisiblesIn the vein of Meg Donohue and Jennifer Close, comes Cecilia Galante’s adult debut about the complicated and powerful bonds of female friendship—a compelling, moving novel that is told in both the present and the past.

Thrown together by chance as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Ozzie, Monica, and Grace quickly bond over their troubled pasts and form their own family which they dub The Invisibles. But when tragedy strikes after graduation, Nora is left to deal with the horrifying aftermath alone as the other three girls leave home and don’t look back.

Fourteen years later, Nora is living a quiet, single life working in the local library. She is content to focus on her collection of “first lines” (her favorite opening lines from novels) and her dog, Alice Walker, when out-of-the-blue Ozzie calls her on her thirty-second birthday. But after all these years, Ozzie hasn’t called her to wish a happy birthday. Instead, she tells Nora that Grace attempted suicide and is pleading for The Invisibles to convene again. Nora is torn: she is thrilled at the thought of being in touch with her friends, and yet she is hesitant at seeing these women after such a long and silent period of time. Bolstered by her friends at the library, Nora joins The Invisibles in Chicago for a reunion that sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will change each of their lives forever.

The Invisibles is an unforgettable novel that asks the questions: How much of our pasts define our present selves? And what does it take to let go of some of our most painful wounds and move on?

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A Major Announcement: Introducing Triangle Reads!

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


Imagine this: you gather your book club or your favorite group of friends and caravan to Raleigh, North Carolina for a long a weekend. While there you eat, drink, and make merry. Then on Sunday morning, after sleeping in, you participate in a moveable feast with two dozen of the brightest, most talented, acclaimed authors publishing has to offer. For the rest of the day you sit in on discussions about memoir, children’s books, southern fiction, and historical mysteries (among others). Then, once your head is positively swimming with Story, you cap off the day with Modern Mrs. Darcy in conversation with Elin Hilderbrand, followed by cocktails with the entire She Reads team and the amazing authors you’ve spent the day with.

If, like us, that sounds like an ideal way to spend a weekend in early fall, you don’t have to imagine it any longer. Because She Reads has partnered with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance to create TRIANGLE READS, a first of its kind live readers event on September 20th.

You’ll be hearing much more about this event in the coming weeks but for today, we highly encourage you  to visit TRIANGLE READS, send the link to your book-loving friends, and grab your tickets. Because space is limited and they won’t last long.

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Summer Reading Series: Jan Ellison

Today’s post by author Jan Ellison | @JanEllison

Jan Ellison’s debut novel, A SMALL INDISCRETION, has received a number of accolades since it was published in January. For good reason we might add. And it was actually this post that inspired our entire summer reading series. We were so fascinated by the idea of an author choosing a handful of books on a specific theme and immersing herself in them over the summer that we decided to invite others to do the same. And now that our series is almost over (we only have two more contributions after today) we decided it was time for you to meet Jan and her novel.

Summer Reading Series

Imagine how much of life’s domestic disharmony would be silenced if every man could slip into a woman’s skin for a day, and every woman into a man’s. My summer reading list is intended to be the next best thing — novels written by male writers who expose the tender interior of their characters’ hearts as they struggle to live with those they love.

Bill Roorbach’s The Remedy for Love

The unlikely love story of two strangers stranded in a cabin in Maine in the middle of an epic snow storm.

I saw Bill speak at a conference this spring, and if his novels are anything like he is, I am in for a poignant, hilarious ride. What woman can resist a male protagonist who writes of the fiancee he fears he’s lost: “Something she didn’t understand about young men in love: her body that morning as she talked on the phone was easily the most beautiful vista he had ever encountered.”

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road

A traditional 1950’s couple trade their love of each other for dreams of greatness.

This is one I’ve already read, and look forward to re-reading. I remember it as a searing, heartbreaking story that masterfully illuminates the way our loved ones can bring out our very worst selves.

Frank Wheeler intends to comfort his wife after she has performed in a disastrous play: “What he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say ‘Listen: you were wonderful.’ But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him that she didn’t want to be touched . . . and that was when it occurred to him that ‘You were wonderful’ might be exactly the wrong thing to say . . . ‘Well,’ he said instead. ‘I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?'”

Chartles Baxter’s The Feast of Love

This re-conceived Mid-Summer Night’s Dream is a series of rule-bending vignettes that take us on a sexy, literary romp through a land where ordinary people love in extraordinary ways.

I heard Charles Baxter read from this book years ago, and he later told me it was his favorite of his books (though he’s written quite a few since.) Baxter doesn’t back down from even the most precarious of human interactions: A newly married couple, honeymooning in Michigan, discovers that “you can have good sex on your honeymoon and still suspect that there’s something fishy going on.”

Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This

Named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, this is the harrowing story of a family trying to rebuild after a kidnapped child is returned.

After just a few pages, I was struck by this novel’s rare combination of fine sentences, fully realized characters, and a driving plot. “Laura paced across the room with her hands clasped in front of her . . . Were she a stranger, Eric would’ve been struck with longing as he watched her languid movements. His wife — it still shocked him — was beautiful.”

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Jan EllisonJan Ellison is a mother of four and a novelist, essayist and short-story writer. Her first book, A Small Indiscretion (Random House 2015) is a literary suspense novel that was both an Oprah Editor’s Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Book Club Pick. Jan’s essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere, and she received an O. Henry Prize for her first short story to appear in print.

Jan has degrees from Stanford and San Francisco State University, where she earned her MFA. She had a brief career in her twenties at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write. She was raised in Los Angeles and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their children.

Follow Jan on Facebook and Twitter

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A Small IndiscretionAt nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes.

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