Author to Author: The Midwife Interviews, Part One

Today’s post by Patricia Harman and Sally Hepworth | @Sally Hepworth

A little known fact about me (Ariel): if I hadn’t become a writer I would have been a midwife. I suspect this has much to do with the fact that my mother had six children, all of them delivered by midwives, most of them at home, and that I spent a lot of time in midwifery clinics with her as a pre-teen. I have tremendous respect for these women and I am endlessly fascinated by the act of childbirth and the skill and empathy with which they bring children into the world. Apart from the births of my own children (and I suppose my own if you want to be technical) I witnessed the birth of one sister and two nephews–all of them delivered by midwives. So when we discovered these two new novels that revolve around the lives of midwives, we tracked the authors down and asked them to interview one another. Up first, Patricia Harman interview Sally Hepworth about THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES. Enjoy!

Midwife Collage

Patricia: Tell me a little about your inspiration for this book.

Sally: Well, I suppose the fact that I was pregnant at the time had something to do with it!

The truth is, during the first few months of my pregnancy, I battled terrible morning sickness, and I spent a lot of time curled up in bed with a book. I read Chis Bohjalian’s MIDWIVES and Ami Mackay’s THE BIRTH HOUSE in quick succession and immediately went looking for another book about birth! Specifically, I wanted to read a generational saga about midwives—to show how midwifery has evolved over the generations—but I couldn’t seem to find one. And, as you probably know, there’s a saying among writers, “Write the book you want to read.” That’s what I did!

Patricia: In THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES you show the differing opinions about the “right” way to give birth, even among the midwives. Neva, the youngest midwife, enjoys the ‘safety net’ of delivering in a birthing center attached to a hospital; her mother, Grace, is a staunch advocate of home-births; and her grandmother, Floss, now a retired midwife, believes the birthing environment is important only insofar as that it reflects the mother’s needs and wants. These views are not central to the plot (although we do see some development in the midwives’ views over the course of the book) so why include them?

Sally: I thought it was impossible to write a book about modern midwives without including this particular debate, because, in my experience, there is a lot of debate over the “right” way to give birth—even among those in the profession. It was also a good point of conflict, particularly between Neva and Grace, and in novels, conflict is king! The idea of right and wrong also tied in with my novel’s theme, but as you’ve asked about that below, more about that later…

Patricia: You mentioned you were pregnant while you wrote this novel. To what extent did this influence the writing of this book?

Sally: My pregnancy influenced the writing a huge amount! Apart from it being the catalyst for the book itself, it also helped me create the structure (the three points of view). From the moment I found out I was pregnant with a daughter, I knew it was going to be a book about a mother and daughter (the character of Floss, the grandmother, was added later when I began to research and found myself captivated by stories of 1950s midwifery). Also, writing Neva’s character (who is pregnant) while being pregnant myself, allowed me to breathe the feelings of joy, love, and utter terror of carrying a human being around inside your body, into her character.

(Oh, and my pregnancy also influenced the writing of this book in that I often fell asleep at my laptop while writing it …)

Patricia: THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES has a number of birth scenes – some quite dramatic and with unexpected complications! As you are not a midwife yourself, how did you prepare to write this novel? What research did you do?

Sally: I did an enormous amount of research as I prepared to write this book. I knew I wanted my birth scenes to be authentic (and yes, dramatic) so I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on—novels, memoirs, medical books. I also watched footage of practically every high-risk birth YouTube had to offer (which was a little nerve racking for my husband, who burst into the study a few times when he heard a crying, panting woman in the final throes of labor—don’t forget I was pregnant at the time!). On top of this, I subscribed to online communities and forums where I was able to ask questions about midwifery and birth and I touched base with several home-birth midwives and midwives alliance groups. I am also lucky to have an aunt who is a midwife and she was able to make suggestions and verify things for me.

Patricia: How does midwifery influence the theme of your novel?

Sally: As you mentioned above, there is a lot of debate throughout the book about the “right” and “wrong” way to give birth. This idea of right and wrong also ties in with what is at the heart of the novel: family. Unfortunately, there is still a commonly held belief that there is a “right” and “wrong” kind of family. Or at least a “good” and “better” type. But these days, there are so many different kinds of families—blended, adoptive, single-parent, same-sex parents, communities of singles. And, just as there is no right way to give birth, there is no right way to be a family. Ultimately, what I hope the reader walks away with is a realization that families are not about DNA…they’re about love.

Patricia: Midwifery has become increasingly talked about lately, perhaps in part due to the popular TV series Call the Midwife. Why do you think people are so fascinated by birth?

Sally: Yes, that’s a good question. I suppose it’s because birth is relevant to so many people—because so many people have (or want) children. And most people would agree that it is a beautiful thing to create a life. But I also think part of the appeal is that birth can also be a little scary and there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong. People love to be a little scared in fiction as it is a safe place to experience fear—and hopefully, come out the other side unscathed.

* * *

Secrets of Midwives 2“With empathy and keen insight, Sally Hepworth delivers a page-turning novel about the complex, lovely, and even heartbreaking relationships between mothers and daughters.—Emily Gifin

Three generations of women.

Secrets in the present and from the past.

A captivating tale of life, loss, and love…

Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva’s pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

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The Frustrated Creative

Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W

Kim Wright is the author of LOVE IN MID AIR and THE UNEXPECTED WALTZ (a She Reads summer selection and now available in paperback).  Her next book is THE CANTERBURY SISTERS, which will be released by Simon and Schuster in May.

Kim Wright

Kim Wright

I first realized I was a frustrated creative when I started hosting ridiculously over-themed birthday parties for my kids. Cowboys, astronauts, ballerinas, secret agents, dinosaurs – you name it, I baked a cake in the shape of it. The craziness peaked at my son’s fourth birthday pirate party, when I soaked five hundred pennies in vinegar to make them shiny and then tossed them in the sandbox so the kids could dig for “buried treasure.” We were still finding them when Jordan went off to college.

Needless to say, about 99.99% of my efforts were lost on the kids. Even more needless to say, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t really doing it for the kids. I was a frustrated creative. But our society considers art worthwhile only if 1) it’s for the sake of someone else, like children, church or a charity 2) you’re very good, darn near expert, at your chosen craft or 3) you make money at it.

Especially 3.

Eventually I became a novelist whose friends were almost exclusively other writers, and I might’ve forgotten those dark years of being a frustrated creative if I hadn’t been asked to lead a workshop on “Finding Your Passion.” We took turns meeting in the participant’s homes, which were all huge and gorgeous, complete with pictures on the mantle of skiing in Moritz, diving in St. Croix and shopping in Paris. But these women also decorated, redecorated, went on collecting binges which were promptly followed by decluttering purges, and served snacks so elaborate they were like banquets. Their seemingly enviable lives couldn’t protect them from creative frustration.

Here’s the deal. No matter what their age or stage of life, women need to be creative for its own sake. To learn that creativity is more about the verb than the noun, more about the process than the product. In the beginning you might 1) feel selfish for taking the time 2) be very bad, darn near appalling, at your chosen craft and 3) spending money rather than making it. But creativity still matters. It still counts. Without it, even the fullest of lives still feel like something’s missing.

As my writing career daily seems less like a miracle and more like a job, I know I have to keep coming up with ways to knock myself out of my comfortable box. Each week I go on what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way, calls “Artist Dates.” Like going to fabric stores and buying any cloth that calls my name, even if I don’t know what to do with it, or trying a new restaurant every month, sometimes parting my hair on the “wrong” side and making up new lyrics to existing songs. If anybody asks me why I say “I’m on an artist date with my frustrated creative.”

Silly? Yep. But not nearly as silly as soaking five hundred pennies in vinegar and burying them in a sandbox.

* * *

the_unexpected_waltz_TP_final_cover“Kim Wright’s charming novel, The Unexpected Waltz, chronicles one woman’s second chance at happiness and an opportunity to find her authentic self. The writing is pitch perfect—this is a winner!” (Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of The Matchmaker)

From the author of the “sharply written and emotionally accessible” (Kirkus Reviews) debut Love in Mid Air comes this moving novel about a middle-aged woman who regains her balance in life. Kelly Wilder becomes recently widowed from a much older, wealthy man with whom she spent her married life doing charity work, building a lovely home, and, as she says, “pretending to be a whole lot more conservative and stupid and nicer than I really am.”

Now, with too much time and money on her hands, Kelly has absolutely no idea what happens next. So on a whim she signs up for a ballroom dancing class, and slowly, step by high-heeled step, begins to rebuild her life with the help of friends old and new: Nik, a young Russian dance teacher who sees the artistic potential she left behind; Carolina, a woman in hospice, anxious to experience a whole lifetime in a few months; and Elyse, Kelly’s girlhood best friend who knows all of her past secrets—including the truth about the man who long ago broke Kelly’s heart.

In the vein of Jennifer Weiner’s novels, The Unexpected Waltz is a deeply felt story about moving on after loss and finding a new walk—or dance—of life through the power of second chances.

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A Bad Match: In Real Life And In Ficiton

Today’s post by author Sophie Hannah | @SophieHannahCB1

Today’s guest, author Sophie Hannah, shares the story of a friend’s troubled marriage and how it echoes the fictional marriage in her new novel, THE CARRIER.

Sophie Hannah, photo credit Roderick Field

Sophie Hannah, photo credit Roderick Field

Everyone who’s attended a wedding is familiar with the question: ‘If anybody present knows of any reason why this man and woman should not be joined in matrimony, please declare it now.’ It’s the cue for us wedding guests to ignore any and all misgivings that don’t directly involve a mad, purple-faced wife concealed in the attic, and, yes, I do blame Jane Eyre for our communal inability to recognize any danger that isn’t a rampant pyromaniac in a lacy nightgown.

I was a witness at a male friend’s wedding five years ago.  When it came to that part of the ceremony, I shamefully said nothing, because, after all, no one was locked in an attic.  Silently, I was screaming, ‘Nooo! Don’t marry her!’  After the ceremony, we went to a local hotel for lunch and a swim.  It was a small wedding party: five of us in total.  Once we’d left the pool, it became apparent to the three witnesses that the bride and groom had disappeared.  I assumed they’d snuck off to canoodle, but when they reappeared, the groom, my friend, had obviously been crying.  Later, I asked him what was wrong.  ‘She screamed at me and called me a motherf***er,’ he said, sounding baffled.  ‘She regrets marrying me, doesn’t want to have kids with me and thinks we’re a bad match.  I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.’  He shrugged miserably.

‘Didn’t you ask?’ I said.

‘Yep, but…I still don’t understand,’ he admitted.  ‘I suggested going for a walk after our swim, and she told me to go on my own because she was exhausted and needed to sleep for a bit.  So I went, but apparently I should have known she didn’t really want to sleep.  What she really wanted was for me not to go for a walk.’

‘So…she expected you to guess her preferences, then punished you for guessing incorrectly?’

It was a question I eventually stopped asking.  The answer was distressingly obvious: punishing him for being neither perfect nor psychic was her hobby.  Once, in a pub, she savaged him because he’d ordered a pudding that wasn’t the one she wanted, although minutes earlier she’d insisted she didn’t want anything.  Another time she publicly berated him for buying her an art book.  ‘He bought it because he thought it was interesting,’ she snapped.  ‘Whenever he buys me presents, they’re things he wants that I have no interest in.’  (It turned out that she wasn’t interested in anything apart from her work, which she obsessed over for nearly twenty hours a day, ignoring him while he cooked her dinner every night, alone in their kitchen.)  ‘Next time a charity comes collecting, I’m giving that stupid book to them!’ she threatened.

Once, while he was at the top of a ladder trimming tree branches, she took exception to his method and started to shake the ladder, and he very nearly fell from a considerable height.  She occasionally hit him, punched him, pushed him, told him she wouldn’t care at all if he slept with other women.  Eventually – luckily for my friend – she judged him so disappointing that she ended the relationship.  He was gutted, as we so often are when the compassionless dullard we’ve erroneously set up home with finally liberates us, and trudges off to ruin someone else’s life; it’s so easy to think that the unhappiness that is presently ours is the happiest we’re ever likely to be.  ‘I’ve spent the last few months wishing you’d die in a car accident,’ she told him, ‘so that we wouldn’t have to go through this break-up.’  She was considerate like that.

If I could turn back the clock, I’d speak up in response to the registrar’s Jane Eyre question.  ‘This wedding shouldn’t happen, because if it does then one day this woman will force my friend to dress up as a hobbit and attend a fancy dress party,’ I would say – and save my friend a great deal of hobbit humiliation as well as five years of misery.

* * *

THE CARRIERThe latest in Sophie Hannah’s internationally bestselling Zailer & Waterhouse series, named byThe Sunday Times as one of the 50 Best Thrillers of the Last Five Years

When Gaby’s plane is delayed, she’s forced to share a hotel room with a stranger: Lauren, who is terrified of her. But why is she scared of Gaby in particular? Lauren won’t explain. Instead, she blurts out something about an innocent man going to prison for murder. Gaby soon suspects that Lauren’s presence on her flight isn’t a coincidence, because the murder victim is Francine Breary, the wife of the only man Gaby has ever truly loved.

Tim Breary has confessed. He’s even provided the police with evidence. The only thing he hasn’t given them is a motive. He claims to have no idea why he murdered his wife…

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The Accidental Historical Fiction Writer

Today’s post by debut novelist, Greer MacAllister | @TheLadyGreer

Our guest this morning is Greer MacAllister, one of our featured authors in The Books of Winter series. Her post today is of special interest to me (Ariel) since historical fiction has always been the genre I gravitate to. I hope you enjoy and that you run out and grab your own copy of THE MAGICIAN’S LIE. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Greer MacAllister

Greer MacAllister

I’ve heard many writers claim that they’re not in charge of their characters. “I thought my protagonist was going to do X, but she insisted on doing Y!” they say. “I wanted her to zig, but she zagged!” I’ve had dozens of these conversations over the years – it’s clear that many authors feel like their characters are really the ones calling the shots.

With me, it turned out to be the novel’s time period that unexpectedly ran the show.

I’d written several novels before, you see. All contemporary, all set more or less in the here and now. And then I got this odd, out-of-nowhere inspiration: why do you always see a male magician cutting a woman in half, and never the other way around? Why isn’t it ever a female magician cutting her male assistant in half? So I decided I wanted to write that book, about that magician.

But I had a choice to make. There are magicians, and there are magicians. Did I want this woman to be a modern, contemporary woman, maybe with a Vegas stage show and a TV special? Or did I want to set the story in a time when magic shows were more widespread, when they’d be part of an evening’s entertainment for the average citizen? In that case, it would be possible for a controversial show to truly cause a sensation. I did some preliminary research to find a time when it would be unusual but not impossible for a woman to take to the Vaudeville stage as an illusionist, and anchored the story on a real-life event where a real-life female magician took the stage for a dangerous illusion called the Bullet Catch at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

The Magician's LieIn January 1897.

And so I found myself, more or less by accident, writing historical fiction.

I didn’t know anything about 1897 off the top of my head. Would there have been electric lights? What would such a woman wear? How would she get around? How much did the streetcar cost? There were streetcars, right? Maybe?

I learned on the job. I started writing, and researched along the way. The action of the book started in the mid-1880s and continued through 1905. As a contemporary fiction writer I’d been fast, but as a historical fiction writer, I was agonizingly slow. The research took over, halting the writing for long periods, when I couldn’t get through a scene without stopping to gather information. Had sequins been invented yet? Telephones existed, but would a small town police station have one, and if so, what would its ring sound like? What crops would a farmer grow in East Tennessee?

Over the five years that it took me to write THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, I learned how to balance research and writing. I lost some of the immediacy (and certainly the speed!) of writing contemporary fiction, but I gained something I absolutely treasure – the ability to transport the reader to a completely different world. Choosing the right details and working them into the text gently, softly, as if there were no other way – I grew to love the challenge, and to me, that’s where historical fiction really shines.

Opening paragraph of THE MAGICIAN’S LIE:

Waterloo, Iowa

July 23, 1905

Six o’clock in the evening

Tonight, I will do the impossible. As I do every night, I will make people believe things that aren’t true. I will show them worlds that never existed, events that never happened. I will weave a web of beautiful illusion to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world.


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Sarah Addison Allen on FIRST FROST

Today’s post by New York Time bestselling author, Sarah Addison Allen | @SarahAddisonAll

Sarah Addison AllenHello, my name is Sarah and I’ll be your server today.

Hungry for a good read? FIRST FROST is our chef’s special. It’s an aromatic mixture of edible flowers, small pink apples and a pinch of magic in a mysterious, romantic sauce. I suggest a nice bottle of honeysuckle wine to go with it.

The magic of food, particularly edible flowers, plays a big part in my new book FIRST FROST, the sequel to my 2007 book GARDEN SPELLS. I’m a little obsessed with food. That’s probably no surprise to those of you familiar with my books. I try to bring the full flavor of my southern upbringing to my writing. There’s a sweet and tangy taste to the south I try to capture: edible flowers in FIRST FROST and GARDEN SPELLS; southern and rural candies in THE SUGAR QUEEN; North Carolina barbecue in THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON; coffee-flavored sweets in THE PEACH KEEPER; and deep-south, French-southern cuisine in LOST LAKE.

First FrostI’m a foodie and a bookworm. My mother is a fabulous cook and my father is a journalist, so I come by it honestly. I’ve been writing most of my life, and finally made it to published writer with the publication of my first book, GARDEN SPELLS. It’s been a glorious whirlwind ever since. Going back to that GARDEN SPELLS world with my new book FIRST FROST was comforting and surprising, a lot like the food of the south itself.

I hope you have a delicious read.

I’ll be right back with your drinks.

Add this book to your Goodreads “want to read” list.


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15 Books We’re Looking Forward To In 2015

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

Marybeth’s List:

The Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Rosie Project, starring the same extraordinary couple now living in New York and unexpectedly expecting their first child. Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back. The Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge because— surprise!—Rosie is pregnant.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia to reconcile, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business, and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him the most.

Graeme Simsion first introduced these unforgettable characters in The Rosie Project, which NPR called “sparkling entertainment along the lines of Where’d You Go Bernadette and When Harry Met Sally.” The San Francisco Chronicle said, “sometimes you just need a smart love story that will make anyone, man or woman, laugh out loud.” If you were swept away by the book that’s captivated a million readers worldwide, you will love The Rosie Effect.

The NightengaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front.  She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth.  While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely.  But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war.   The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.  It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades…beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden–one that will test her convictions and her heart.

1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed…

The Girl On The TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

See How SmallSee How Small by Scott Blackwood

One late autumn evening in a Texas town, two strangers walk into an ice cream shop shortly before closing time. They bind up the three teenage girls who are working the counter, set fire to the shop, and disappear. SEE HOW SMALL tells the stories of the survivors–family, witnesses, and suspects–who must endure in the wake of atrocity. Justice remains elusive in their world, human connection tenuous.

Hovering above the aftermath of their deaths are the three girls. They watch over the town and make occasional visitations, trying to connect with and prod to life those they left behind. “See how small a thing it is that keeps us apart,” they say. A master of compression and lyrical precision, Scott Blackwood has surpassed himself with this haunting, beautiful, and enormously powerful new novel.

The RumorThe Rumor by Elin Hildebrand

Nantucket writer Madeline King has a new novel coming out, The Rumor, and it’s got bestseller potential. But Madeline is terrified, because in her desperation to revive her career, she’s done the unthinkable: The Rumor reveals the truth behind an actual affair involving her best friend, Grace.

And that’s not the only strain on Madeline and Grace’s friendship; one fateful night, the two women argue, voicing jealousies and resentments that have built for twenty years. Bereft of each other, they get caught in the snares of a mysterious and destructive stranger. Their fate hinges on The Rumor — and the secret it reveals.

THE RUMOR is an irresistible novel about the power of gossip to change the course of events, and the desire of people to find their way back to what really matters.

The StrangerThe Stranger by Harlan Coben

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.

Ariel’s List:

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

In this new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s personal awakening as she experiences the devastations of World War II in a Scottish Highlands village.

Madeline Hyde, a young socialite from Philadelphia, reluctantly follows her husband and their best friend to the tiny village of Drumnadrochit in search of a mythical monster—at the same time that a very real monster, Hitler, wages war against the Allied Forces. What Maddie discovers—about the larger world and about herself—through the unlikely friendships she develops with the villagers, opens her eyes not only to the dark forces that exist around her but to the beauty and surprising possibilities.


The Half BrotherThe Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

A passionate, provocative story of complex family bonds and the search for identity set within the ivy-covered walls of a New England boarding school

When Charlie Garrett arrives as a young teacher at the shabby-yet-genteel Abbott School, he finds a world steeped in privilege and tradition. Fresh out of college and barely older than the students he teaches, Charlie longs to leave his complicated southern childhood behind and find his place in the rarefied world of Abbottsford. Before long he is drawn to May Bankhead, the daughter of the legendary school chaplain; but when he discovers he cannot be with her, he forces himself to break her heart, and she leaves Abbott—he believes forever. He hunkers down in his house in the foothills of Massachusetts, thinking his sacrifice has contained the damage and controlled their fates.

But nearly a decade later, his peace is shattered when his golden-boy half brother, Nick, comes to Abbott to teach—and May returns as a teacher as well. Students and teachers alike are drawn by Nick’s magnetism, and even May falls under his spell. When Charlie pushes his brother and his first love together, with what he believes are the best of intentions, a love triangle ensues that is haunted by desire, regret, and a long-buried mystery.

With wisdom and emotional generosity, LeCraw takes us through a year that transforms both the teachers and students of Abbott forever. Page-turning, lyrical, and ambitious, The Half Brother is a powerful examination of family, loyalty, and love.

A Desperate FortuneA Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Beloved New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley delivers a riveting novel that deftly intertwines the tales of two women, divided by centuries and forever changed by a clash of love and fate.

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher.

Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing-for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary’s gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew-about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.

House of EchoesHouse of Echoes by Brendan Duffy

In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare.

Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.

When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.

House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie HennesyThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold’s cross-country journey.

A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.

In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.

A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life.

Sisters of Heart and SnowSisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

The award-winning author of How to Be and American Housewife returns with a poignant story of estranged sisters, forced together by family tragedy, who soon learn that sisterhood knows no limits.

Rachel and Drew Snow may be sisters, but  their lives have followed completely different paths.

Married to a wonderful man and a mother to two strong-minded teens, Rachel hasn’t returned to her childhood home since being kicked out by her strict father after an act of careless teenage rebellion. Drew, her younger sister, followed her passion for music but takes side jobs to make ends meet and longs for the stability that has always eluded her. Both sisters recall how close they were, but the distance between them seems more than they can bridge. When their deferential Japanese mother, Hikari, is diagnosed with dementia and gives Rachel power of attorney, Rachel’s domineering father, Killian becomes enraged.

In a rare moment of lucidity, Hikari asks Rachel for a book in her sewing room, and Rachel enlists her sister’s help in the search. The book—which tells the tale of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen, an epic saga of love, loss, and conflict during twelfth-century Japan—reveals truths about Drew and Rachel’s relationship that resonate across the centuries, connecting them in ways that turn their differences into assets.

The Mapmaker's ChildrenThe Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Dead WakeDead Wake by Erik Larson

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

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How Life Inspires Fiction

Today’s post by debut author, Sonja Yoerg | @SonjaYoerg

Sonja Yoerg

Sonja Yoerg

When my two daughters were in pre-school, I was a single mom and worked full-time in San Francisco, an hour’s commute. Erika, a middle-aged Romanian woman, would pick up the girls from school and care for them until I got home. I prized Erika for her reliability and her willingness to play Go Fish thirty times in a row, but if I wasn’t home by six o’clock on the dot, she’d give the girls their dinner, no matter how I implored her to wait. Every night I raced to catch the bus, to make the train, to sprint from the station in hopes my daughters hadn’t already finished Erika’s rolled cabbage containing more salt than the Red Sea. Of course the real problem wasn’t the cuisine: I wanted to feed my children myself.

I also wanted to be the first to see their daily art projects, to hear the lowdown from the teachers, to hang with other parents while our kids ran circles around us. I wanted to be there when my elder daughter graduated from kindergarten, but couldn’t get the day off. After I put her to bed that night, I cried, but only a little, because my pint-sized graduate was happy and well.

As hard as it was to be out working when my girls were small, I was thankful to be at home during their teens. I’d remarried and had the luxury of working when I chose. I defended family dinnertime as if we might never eat together again, and I didn’t miss any milestones, except perhaps the ones my daughters were determined to keep from me. It’s an age-old game, parent-teenager hide-and-seek.

Geneva, the main character of my debut novel, is a veterinarian—a working mom—and I bestowed upon her two teens, an alcoholic mother, and, for good measure, a husband with a lax parenting style. Sixteen-year-old Ella helps tell the story, so I was privy to the secrets she keeps from her mom, like the weed she stashes in her Build-A-Bear. Geneva has a hunch her kids are up to no good, but don’t we all. Like the rest of us, she balances trusting her kids and getting blindsided, and does so within the swirl of work and marriage, with her combustible mother under her roof.

Although the details are different, Geneva’s struggles are as real as my own, or, indeed, as those of any parent who wishes to do their best for their children. They grow up too fast, and not fast enough, and we never know what would’ve happened if we’d done things differently. We are lucky to have our children, and to let them go, and blessed beyond measure if we manage to get some of it right.

* * *

House BrokenIn this compelling and poignant debut novel, a woman skilled at caring for animals must learn to mend the broken relationships in her family.…

For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.

Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.

Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive.

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Today’s Western: 3 Novels That Give New Life To An Old Genre

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Two of the first novels I ever loved were Lonesome Dove and True Grit. Having spent the first sixteen years of my life in the Southwest I am particularly drawn to novels set in dusty, rugged places. More so than most other genres, setting is a character in Westerns. Real. Vivid. And necessary. And while some could argue that this type of novel has gone out of vogue in recent years, that is changing, thanks in part to novels like these.

Western Collage

Glorious by Jeff Guinn

Jeff Guinn, bestselling author of The Last Gunfight, gives us everything we love about the classic Western in his new offering, Glorious: the painted deserts of Arizona, dusty outposts, and ruthless pursuers in steel-toed boots. Cash McClendon is a man who knows how to stay alive. He’s fled from St. Louis, and his enraged father-in-law, to find refuge in, Glorious, Arizona. But the Western territory is not as hospitable as he hoped it would be. Neither is the woman he came to find, a woman he once spurned in favor of a wealthy life. McClendon’s time is running out. His pursuers are close on his heels. And the girl he’s desperate to win back shows no signs of relenting. The first of a planned trilogy, Glorious is everything a Western should be: stark, exciting, and intense.

Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks

Debut author Malcolm Brooks chose to set his novel, Painted Horses, in Montana during the mid 1950’s. The timeframe is a departure from classic westerns, as is the female protagonist, but those choices are part of what gives this novel such weight. Catherine Lemay is an ambitious young archeologist newly arrived from post-blitz London and its plentiful, ordered digs. But Montana is harsh, different, and challenging. Here she must work her way through a vast canyon ahead of a major dam project, in search of historical artifacts. In a few short months the canyon will be flooded, and it is her job to make sure nothing is lost in the process. It is in that untamed valley that she meets a fugitive horseman and is forced to find beauty in something other than the past. Painted Horses is a rich, beautiful addition to the cannon of Western literature.

The Untold by Courtney Collins

Perhaps the most fascinating of the three, The Untold, is set in the Australian Outback, a location at once exotic and familiar. We find the dust and rocks, the mountains and valleys, the streams and rivers that we expect. But they’re different somehow. Fresh. As though viewed through the sepia-tinted light of late afternoon. It could be the American West, but it isn’t, and that makes this debut all the more compelling. Inspired by the true story of Jessie Hickman, a female horse thief, murderer, and fugitive, it is the story of a woman on the run. After a night of violence and heartbreaking loss Jessie flees into the wilderness. But she is soon pursued by a band of men, all of them eager to claim her, but each for different reasons. The law. Her lover. But Jessie Hickman is not a woman who knows the meaning of surrender—in love or life—and she has no intention of doing so now.

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Our Reading Year– What Worked For Us In 2014

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

Since Marybeth and I are both committed to a life of words, we thought we’d share a bit of what worked for us last year and the ways that we’ve been able to maintain our personal reading goals. And we’d love to hear from you as well. What were the things that really worked for you in 2014?

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Audio Books: In evaluating what books were the standouts of the year, I was semi surprised to see that many of my top books were the books I listened to in audio format. I check out the books on cd (old school alert!) and listen in my car as I’m driving to the school where I teach or out running errands or sitting in that infernal car line waiting to get my kids each afternoon. I can usually listen to at least a book a month that way and it makes the time I spend in the car feel even more productive. I’ve also found that listening to books adds to my appreciation of them, if they’re done well. Just like I will put a book down, I will also eject and return an audio book production if I don’t like the narrator’s voice or feel that the format just isn’t working on audio. Some books you just have to see with your own eyes. But some books are even better heard. The Rosie Project and Where’d You Go Bernadette come to mind.

My Reading Journal: I keep a very informal reading journal, jotting down the titles of the books I read and a few sentences about what I thought of them. It’s in an old spiral notebook with no bells and whistles, but I would never remember what I read otherwise. The reading journal serves as both a record and a challenge, as each year I try to read more books than the year before– even if it’s only by one title!

Morning Reading: I am all about fiction so my reading usually stays solely in this part of the literary world. But what about all those great nonfiction titles I’d like to have time for? Giving myself reading assignments in the morning has been a good way to educate myself on new topics, tackling a new book each month. I simply take the number of days in the month and divide it into the number of pages in the book to determine how many pages I should read each morning in order to finish the book in a month. I usually only had to read about 7 pages a day, and it was a painless and enriching addition to my morning routine.

Library Holds: I am a frequent visitor to my local public library’s website. I can find an upcoming title, search for it there, and put it on hold. I love to be one of the first folks to score a copy and know that I will have my hands on it just as soon as it’s available. For a book junkie like me, that is nothing short of a miracle.


My iPad: I know, I KNOW. I hate to even put this in print. Because I love real books. I like the way they feel and I like the way they smell and I like turning actual pages. Also, can I just say that real books NO NOT RUN OUT OF BATTERIES. Ahem. That said, I reached a point in 2014 where I simply could no longer fit one more book into this tiny house. Books were stacked three deep in front of my bookshelf so I had to start requesting review copies in digital form. And it was a game changer for me. I’m still not a digital convert but I read at least 1/3 of my books electronically now.

Reading Outside My Genre: Here’s the thing, I’m weird. This won’t come as news to anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me, but still, there you have it. When I’m in active writing mode (which I was for the better part of last year, and still am, and will be for some time yet) I can not read a book in the genre that I write. Namely historical literary mysteries. It messes with my head. I start thinking that maybe I should just retire and leave this whole storytelling thing to the experts. So I have to find things that I am not compelled to write. Like fantasy. And humor. Or contemporary suspense. Narrative nonfiction. A good love story. I can read and enjoy all of those things because I don’t write them. But once I’m done with my current work in progress I’ll start reading in my genre again. All things considered, it’s a great way to read a wide variety of books.

Abandoning Books: So here’s a confession. If I start reading and I’m not drawn in after a certain amount of time, I walk away and I feel no guilt. It’s important to note that I have no set rule on number of pages. More than anything else, I’m looking for tone. A sense of falling into the story. I can’t explain it, but I can feel it when I’m going to love a novel. And it’s a feeling I usually get within the first few pages. Some books I abandoned after a few paragraphs. Other books I abandoned after a hundred pages. One book made me so angry this year that I stopped reading ten pages from the end. There is incredible freedom in NOT reading a book. Some of my favorite novels this year were books I picked up after walking away from something else. I might never have discovered them had I suffered through a book that wasn’t for me. And that’s the point, reading is subjective. Not every reader will love every book and that’s okay. None of us will ever have a shortage of reading material.

Now it’s your turn. As a reader, what worked for you in 2014?

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On Stories: Tiffany Baker and Why She Writes

Today’s post by Tiffany Baker, author of MERCY SNOW

MERCY SNOW is one of our winter book club selections and we’ve got five copies of all four novels up for grabs this month. See here for details.

Tiffany Baker

Tiffany Baker

People always ask me why I write and if I have always wanted to write, and I always answer that those two questions are connected. Yes, I have always, my whole life, been held in the thrall of stories, mostly about girls and women, and those stories have made me eager to join the conversation. But the other day, something happened that made all of this very clear to me. My oldest daughter is twelve now, and a reader, like me. She’s finally at an age where she can read The Diary of Anne Frank. We started chatting about the book, and I quoted the famous line about people being good at heart. Then, I started thinking about how much that book has shaped me, how all these years, I have very carefully carried those words curled inside me. What an astounding thing that a teenage girl trying to survive the Holocaust should be part of the fabric of me—a woman in a different time and place—and that she should live on in me, and then in my daughter. What a beautiful thing. Then, it occurred to me that this is precisely why I write. Because of one girl. Because of one girl in a million. That is the magic of writing for me—that one girl can literally become a million.

How astonishing that I can write a novel about a woman with gigantism, a woman unlike any other, certainly unlike myself, and yet have so many readers recognize parts of themselves in her? That I would find myself in her? How miraculous that in stories, a queen can tell a tale to a lowly servant, or the servant to the queen, and that all the rest of us can read it and identify with both? I write because I have been forged by the books I’ve read. I write because, like all women, I have a million different girls inside of me. I write because everyone has her own story, but those stories have in them the common threads that hold us all together. My new novel, MERCY SNOW, is a tale about those threads. Set in a New Hampshire mill town, it weaves together the lives of three very different women who find themselves unexpectedly linked by a bus accident and the invisible strings of their community.

Sometimes I think I write the same story over and over, and that it goes something like this: There are strings all around us all the time—running through us, spinning out of us, connecting us. A whole tapestry of voices, and viewpoints, characters, and lineages. I write because knotting those elements together is the greatest pleasure I know. I write because it is a big world filled with small moments, because the ordinary can be extraordinary. Basically, I write because I believe that one voice in a million matters. Or should. One story. Many voices. The loudest and the tiniest. All of them so very interesting. All of them with something amazing to tell us.

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