Book Club Recipe: The Precious One

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

DSCF6852

Thank you, Marisa De los Santos. Thank you. I’m as big a fan as anyone of the vague, often times, dark ending to a good novel, but being the old-fashioned girl that I am, who still believes in fairy tale endings, I was so relieved to reach the end of The Precious One and find this ending. I am just feminist enough to appreciate the fact that it’s popular for heroines in modern women’s fiction stories to save themselves from their own conflicts, and the beautiful characters in this novel do, but with the help of some pretty shiny knights standing beside them. So refreshing.

I had planned to make my own version of the ubiquitous curried chicken salad that De los Santos included in the book, to go along with it, because it made me laugh that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to shop at the same corner specialty food store, and some tried to pass the dishes off as their own, not realizing that the people they served them to would know they hadn’t because they were commonly served on their own dining room tables. I loved that. I just really did. But then lemon ricotta cookies were mentioned at a key point in Taisy and Willow’s story and I decided I just had to have them…in my post and in my belly. When I reached the end, I was so glad that I did because I found it more poignant to turn those cookies into cakes.

I used a heart-shaped silicone muffin pan to make my cakes, but a regular cupcake pan or mini bundt pan would also work well. The buttercream decorations just gave them a little more color and interest. Pre-made royal icing flowers that are sold with cake decorating supplies would be a simple, fun substitute to piped accents. It should be noted that the poured fondant takes several hours to harden over the moist cakes, so they should be made a day or two in advance.

Lemon Ricotta Cakes

Ingredients:

Cake

1/2 cup salted butter

2 c. raw sugar

12 oz. ricotta cheese

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

The juice and zest of 2 medium lemons

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt

Lemon Poured Fondant

1/2 c. corn syrup

8 T melted butter

2 tsp. pure lemon extract

8 c. confectioner’s sugar

4 drops yellow food color

4 T water

Buttercream Frosting (optional)

1/4 c. butter

2 c. confectioner’s sugar

Pinch of salt

2 T whole milk or water, more or less as needed

Food color

Method:

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and flour pans, unless using silicone.

Make the cakes by first creaming the butter with a mixer. Add the sugar and cream together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Whip in the ricotta.

DSCF6840

Spoon into pan to fill sections 2/3 full.

DSCF6841

Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan resting on a cooling rack. Invert to rack and cool completely.

DSCF6842

To make the poured fondant, combine the melted butter with the corn syrup. Stir in the color, flavor, and confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the water until the mixture is smooth.

DSCF6837

When the cakes are cool, place them on a wire rack and puddle the fondant over each and gently coax it to run down the sides to coat the.

DSCF6844

Allow the cakes to dry overnight before adding buttercream decorations.

DSCF6848

Yield: 24 cupcake sized cakes

 

read more

Summer Reading Series: Pam Jenoff

Today’s post by Pam Jenoff | @PamJenoff

We’re delighted to welcome Pan Jenoff to the blog today. She is a generous, prolific, gifted storyteller and we’ve long admired her work. Her new novel, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, releases in a few weeks and now would be the perfect time to preorder your copy! But until then, she’s graciously shared the novels she’ll be reading this summer. Enjoy!

Summer Reading Series

For me, answering the question, “What’s in your beach bag?” is something of a cheat – I haven’t read on the beach in six years because I’m chasing three small children! But in the ten minutes each night before I close my eyes, I will pretend I’m on the beach and read these:

My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb.  Everything Cathy writes is emotionally riveting.  This story, of a lifelong friendship between two women and the haunting truth one discovers when she goes search for the other in Scotland, about the other will be no different.  Pack some tissues in that beach bag!

The Sound of Glass by Karen White.  Not just because Karen is a gifted and remarkable writer, or because I have adored every one of her books.  I’ve heard that this book, a tale of a woman returning to her husband’s ancestral South Carolina home and the mysteries it holds from the past, is her best yet.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. Williams’ latest features a young woman in 1960’s Cape Cod on the brink of a perfect life until unwelcome visitors and dark secrets threaten to unravel it. Kirkus Reviews called in “Kennedy-esque.” I’m sold!

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.  These authors are new to me.  But I’ve been hearing raves everywhere for this story of a woman whose life starts changing to reflect her Facebook status.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica.  This is sort of a cheat because I have already read it.  But the story of a woman who befriends a teenager with a baby and becomes ensnared in a web of lies is so good I will be reading it again.  Warning: do not read it when you are supposed to be chasing the kids or doing something else because you will be completely captivated too.

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL.  Her latest, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, will be released on July 28.

* * *

The Last Summer at Chelsea BeachSummer 1941 

Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Jane Green

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Jane Green | @JaneGreen

We’re delighted to have the brilliant, generous, and charming Jane Green with us today sharing the books that are in her beach bag this summer. And in addition to sharing her most anticipated books, she is also giving away a copy of her new novel, SUMMER SECRETS, and a beach tote packed with summer essentials. (See the photo and entry form below). Welcome, and thank you, Jane! As always your taste is impeccable.

Summer Reading Series

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave | She’s not only one of my favorite writers, but one of my favorite people, and this is first on my list.

Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg | The Middlesteins was a wonderful, poignant book, and I can’t wait to dive into this.

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy | I was lucky enough to read this as an advance copy, and it had me crying with laughter in a way I hadn’t since Bridget Jones’s Diary. I plan to re-read it on the beach.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume | What can I say, who won’t be reading this adult novel from the woman we all fell in love with as teenagers.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin | Another I was lucky enough to read early, and another I plan to revisit, savoring the stories of hoity toity women on the Upper East Side of New York.

* * *

SummerSecretsBeachBag

Jane has very graciously offered to give this gorgeous beach bag stuffed with some of her favorite items–and of a copy of SUMMER SECRETS–to one lucky winner today! See the entry form below for details.

* * *

Summer SecretsWhen a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It’s a mistake for which she can’t forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it’s time to grow up. But she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green’s keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart, Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

read more

Author to Author: Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews

Today’s guests are New York Times bestselling authors Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews | @PCalHenry and @MKayAndrews

We’re delighted to visit with Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews today. Their novels, THE IDEA OF LOVE and BEACH TOWN both center around small Southern towns and people who show up with movies on their mind. So we’ve brought them together to discuss this charming coincidence as well as the writing life. We hope you enjoy!

PCH Collage

Patti Callahan Henry: We met when you were writing mysteries, and I hadn’t yet published. I asked you to meet me for lunch and you did. It was the beginning of not only a beautiful friendship, but it was also the graciousness of one author being willing to mentor another unpublished author. Do you believe that these author to author friendships are vital to our writing lives?

Mary Kay Andrews: I believe in kindness. And karma. So many other writers (almost all of them women) helped me when I was starting my career in fiction, I feel sure I wouldn’t have the career I have today without their help. And it’s a two-way street. I’ve gotten back much more in friendship than I’ve given. Writing is such solitary work, it’s vital to have friendships with others who are walking our same, strange path. I can make a quick call, text, or email to a writer pal, asking for help in figuring out how to get away with murder, (fictionally) and instead of calling the cops, they’ll text me back their brilliant solution to my thorny plotting problem.

Mary Kay Andrews:

I know you’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology and legends. How does this play into the stories you tell in your fiction?

Patti Callahan Henry: Story built on story. That’s how our world and our lives have been formed. If these myths play into my stories, it is only subconsciously, which I’m sure does happen. I have never developed or constructed a story around a known myth, although I have included them inside the story itself. I hope that having read and loved mythology has enriched my storytelling.

Patti Callahan Henry: In this new novel we both wrote (fictionally) a little bit about the movie industry. We didn’t know we were both doing this until the rough drafts were done. Tell me what inspired your story and why you tapped into ‘location scouting’ as a subject.

Mary Kay Andrews: I was looking around for a fascinating occupation for my protagonist, and the idea of having Greer Hennessy, my heroine, be a film location scout seemed like a good idea. It helped that tons of television and movie projects are shot in and around Atlanta every year, and that my daughter Katie handles film permitting for the Atlanta municipality where she works, so I had easy access to scouts for research.

Mary Kay Andrews: In your new novel THE IDEA OF LOVE, your protagonist seems to be a totally sympathetic character—newly widowed and deeply in love with her late husband. Or is she? Where did you get the idea for Ella?

Patti Callahan Henry: Ella arrived on the scene for Blake. He was there trying to steal a good love story and there she was with the perfect one. Originally, that was her only purpose—to give Blake a story but as I wrote her and played with the storyline, I realized that she was having a lot more fun making up her life than telling the truth.

* * *

The Idea of LoveAs we like to say in the south, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love–until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

* * *

Patti Callahan Henry: Your titles are some of my very favorite of all time. They always capture the storyline in a quick, witty burst. Do you come up with these titles before, during or after writing the books?

Mary Kay Andrews: I always like to have the title nailed down before I get too deeply into plotting a book. As a former journalist, it helps me keep my mind on track with the story. Usually I come up with my own titles, although I must admit this time around, my brilliant editor at St. Martins’ Press, Jennifer Enderlin, came up with BEACH TOWN.

Mary Kay Andrews: Movies—we both love ‘em. What’s your favorite and why? Is there any one movie that captures the essence of what you try to reveal in your books?

Patti Callahan Henry: Wow. I could never choose just one movie. But if we narrow it down to Romantic Comedies (which is what The Idea of Love’s character, Blake Hunter, writes) then I can with absolute certainty say When Harry Met Sally. It’s the perfect love story (to me). Friends fall in love, fall apart, fall back together. I do think I have tried to write some of that, but of course I’ve written about many, many other things.

Patti Callahan Henry: You have written a book a year for nearly 24 years. Yet, your stories remain fresh, hilarious and chock full of deeper themes about love, friendship and families. How do you do it? How do you keep the well full and your stories alive?”

Mary Kay Andrews: Desperation! I can’t honestly say I always love the writing process, but I will say I always love having written. I think the way to keep writing and keep creativity alive is to be fully engaged in life, and to stay curious. I’m always studying my craft, trying to figure out how to get better at my job—which is coming up with a satisfying story my readers will love.

Mary Kay Andrews: In THE IDEA OF LOVE, Hank is a screenwriter with crippling writer’s block. Have you ever suffered from the dreaded WB? How did you counter it?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Oh, yes of course I’ve felt like there are times that I can’t write, that I don’t feel the words and stories coming as easily as other times. But I’ve never been crippled by it (hoping I never am). I’ve been able to write, often badly, to push through the block or slow-flow of a bad spell of creativity. In those times, I’ve spent more time reading than writing. More time walking or being in nature than at the computer. Eventually, so far, the flow starts again if I don’t give up on it.

Patti Callahan Henry: You often talk about your ‘junking’ expeditions, and we both love the Savannah area. Both of these things have found their way into your novels. How often do you put your real life into your stories?”

Mary Kay Andrews: BEACH TOWN doesn’t have a lot of junking per se, but Greer’s love interest in the book has a great loft apartment full of treasures he’s recovered from his surroundings—including a vintage stove that’s a lot like a vintage 1950s Wedgewood stove I bought off Craigslist for $90, and re-sold for more than ten times that at my antique booth on Tybee Island. I never know if I write so I can junk, or junk so I can write. I just know I can’t live without writing—or junking.

* * *

Beach TownGreer Hennessy needs palm trees.

As a movie location scout, picture-perfect is the name of the game. But her last project literally went up in flames, and her career is on the verge of flaming out. Greer has been given one more chance, if she can find the perfect undiscovered beach hideaway for a big-budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town called Cypress Key. There’s one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino-which will be perfect for the film’s explosive climax.

There’s just one problem. Eben Thibadeaux, the town mayor, completely objects to Greer’s plan. A lifelong resident of Cypress Key, Eben wants the town to be revitalized, not commercialized. After a toxic paper plant closed, the bay has only recently been reborn, and Eb has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. But Greer has a way of making things happen, regardless of obstacles. And Greer and Eb are way too attracted to each other for either of them to see reason.

Between an ambitious director and his entourage-including a spoiled “It Boy” lead actor-who parachute into town, a conniving local ex-socialite, and a cast of local fangirls and opportunists who catch the movie bug, nothing is going to be the same in Cypress Key. Now Greer is forced to make some hard choices: about the people and the town she’s come to care about, and about her own life. True love is only for the movies, right? Can Greer find a way to be the heroine in her own life story? Told with inimitable heart and humor, Mary Kay Andrews’ Beach Town is the perfect summer destination.

* * *

Mary Kay Andrews: You write a book a year and have a full family life. How do you re-fill the creative well?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Living a full life is the best thing I know to fill the creative well. I don’t do anything in particular for the well, but I try to follow my interests and enjoy my family and friends. Balance is important and yet I know I fail at it all the time. Then I try again. Laughter, too. That’s the best well-filler of all.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Liz and Lisa

Today’s post by Liz and Lisa | @LizandLisa

Our fun and charming guests today are Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of YOUR PERFECT LIFE and the newly released THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS. We thoroughly enjoyed taking a look inside their beach bag! What are YOU reading this summer?

Summer Reading Series

  1. China Rich Girlfriend: We LOVED Crazy, Rich Asians and cannot wait for the follow up. Because who doesn’t love reading about rich people with nothing better to do than make trouble? #wedo
  1. Eight Hundred Grapes: There’s a reason this book has been at the top of every single reading list this summer. There’s something special about the way Laura Dave weaves her stories, and this tale about a family dealing with secrets in wine country is no exception.
  1. Things You Won’t Say: Ripped from the headlines, Sarah sucks us in once again with this poignant story of a family torn apart by an officer-involved shooting. Layered and nuanced, you won’t be able to put it down.
  1. The Good Girl was one of our faves from last summer and Pretty Baby is equally as well done, with twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages!
  1. In A Dark, Dark Wood: Debut author Ruth Ware spins a dark mystery that begins with a bachelorette party and ends with a murder. (Maybe they should have gone easy on the alcohol?) #worstbachelorettepartyEVEH

* * *

The Status of All thingsWhat would you do if you could literally rewrite your fate—on Facebook? This heartwarming and hilarious new novel from the authors of Your Perfect Life follows a woman who discovers she can change her life through online status updates.

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate’s two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

In The Status of All Things, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke combine the humor and heart of Sarah Pekkanen and Jennifer Weiner while exploring the pitfalls of posting your entire life on the Internet. They raise the questions: What if you could create your picture-perfect life? Would you be happy? Would you still be you? For anyone who’s ever attempted—or failed—to be their perfect self online, this is a story of wisdom and wit that will leave you with new appreciation for the true status of your life.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Lori Nelson Spielman

Today’s post by bestselling author, Lori Nelson Spielman | @lnelsonspielman

Our guest today is the wonderful Lori Nelson Spielman, author of THE LIFE LIST and SWEET FORGIVENESS. I (Ariel) am particularly interested in the books Lori has tucked in her beach bag this summer since many of them are I’ll be reading many of them myself.

Summer Reading Series

This summer, I’m hoping to catch up on some mysteries/psychological thrillers, a genre that might actually be my first love. As a child, I devoured my brother’s Encyclopedia Brown books, a series featuring a boy detective, by Donald J. Sobol. Later, I discovered Sydney Sheldon and Mary Higgins Clark in my parents’ library and gobbled them up.

It seems I’m always a year behind in my reading, and this summer is no exception. I plan to start by reading last summer’s SheReads pick, THAT NIGHT, by Chevy Stevens. It’s the story of a woman who’s on parole and trying to readjust to life back in her hometown—after serving time for murdering her sister!

I’m probably one of two people in the universe who hasn’t read GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. I’m a huge fan of books with an unexpected twist. I saw the movie, so I already know the big surprise, but I still want to read it.

I’m determined to read some new releases, too, believe it or not! I’ve already downloaded THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins, which is all the buzz right now. It’s told from three points of view, and offers a voyeuristic perspective of a life unraveling and a missing person. Very Hitchcockian, I’m told.

Speaking of buzz and trains, PRETTY BABY comes out July 28th, the much-anticipated follow-up to Mary Kubica’s stunning debut, THE GOOD GIRL. A woman sees a teenager clutching a baby on a train platform, and offers the homeless duo refuge in her home. Based on Mary’s first book, I can only imagine that things go horribly wrong—in a way that keeps readers on edge and turning pages.

And finally, I loved Lori Roy’s BENT ROAD, which won an Edgar Award, so I can’t wait to read LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS when it comes out June 2nd. I love books set in the south, and this one spans two generations, revealing long-held feuds, a mysterious murder, and dark family secrets.

So there you have it. Though I write women’s fiction and love the genre, this summer is going to be filled with chills and thrills. By summer’s end, my hair may be white and my nails bitten to the quick, but I’m guessing it’ll be worth it!

* * *

Sweet Forgiveness#1 international bestselling author Lori Nelson Spielman follows The Life List with Sweet Forgiveness, in which a woman’s receipt of two “forgiveness stones” sends her searching for atonement

The Forgiveness Stones craze is sweeping the nation—instantly recognizable pouches of stones that come with a chain letter and two simple requests: to forgive, and then to seek forgiveness. But New Orleans’ favorite talk show host, Hannah Farr, isn’t biting. Intensely private and dating the city’s mayor, Hannah has kept her very own pouch of Forgiveness Stones hidden for two years—and her dark past concealed for nearly two decades. But when Fiona Knowles, creator of the Forgiveness Stones, appears on Hannah’s show, Hannah unwittingly reveals on air details of a decades-old falling out with her mother.

Spurned by her fans, doubted by her friends, and accused by her boyfriend of marring his political career, Hannah reluctantly embarks on a public journey of forgiveness. As events from her past become clearer, the truth she’s clung to since her teenage years has never felt murkier. Hannah must find the courage to right old wrongs, or risk losing her mother, and any glimmer of an authentic life, forever.

read more

The Agent Recommends: A Visit with Stefanie Lieberman

Today’s post by Stefanie Lieberman

We are delighted to have Stefanie Lieberman with us today as part of our ongoing “The Agent Recommends” series. As gatekeepers, agents have such a unique perspective on what makes a great novel. They’re on the front lines of publishing. But they’re also avid readers in their spare time. So we try to visit with some of New York’s finest several times a year and pass their wisdom on to you. And we think you’ll really enjoy these two novels recommended by Stefanie Lieberman: one she represented and one she did not.

MM2014Stefanie is Senior Counsel and a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. She joined J&N in 2005 after practicing intellectual property law at The Guggenheim Museum; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and boutique entertainment firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Stefanie holds a BA in Humanities from Yale University and a JD from Northwestern University School of Law.

* * *

Like most literary agents, I’m happy to talk a blue streak about books even during my non-working hours – what you’re reading, what I’m reading, what we both should read next. For me, there are few conversation topics more exciting and consuming than this one. Which is why I was thrilled when the excellent team at SheReads asked if I would write a post recommending two books to their readers: one penned by an author from my own client list, and one by an author I do not represent. The hardest part was narrowing down the number of suggestions to two!

The Cake TherapistTHE CAKE THERAPIST (the book I do represent)

I’ll first propose that you read THE CAKE THERAPIST, written by my wonderful and multi-talented client, Judith Fertig. A debut novel, THE CAKE THERAPIST introduces us to Neely Davis, a pastry chef who returns to her roots in the Midwest following the disintegration of her marriage. Neely is opening the bakery of her dreams in her hometown of Millcreek Valley, Ohio, and she plans to use her unique ability to “taste” feelings in order to help make the business a success. Neely has trained at all the best restaurants, but her true gift in the kitchen is the one she was born with: a natural talent for intuiting the exact right flavor for each person — the special individualized taste that, with a single bite of cake, can resolve a customer’s sticky emotional problem or clear a path back to joy. Neely hopes that baking up a little dessert therapy for her neighbors will help ease the pain of her own breakup. But as she begins to meet her new patrons, Neely’s perfect palate is repeatedly assaulted by the bitter flavor of anger — and she soon finds herself immersed in an unresolved story buried deep in Millcreek Valley’s past.

One of the things I love most about THE CAKE THERAPIST is the way the author weaves the modern narrative thread seamlessly with historical flashbacks. I’m often drawn to books that alternate between two different time periods, especially those in which a more contemporary actor works to unravel secrets hidden in the past. In the best versions of these books, both storylines are equally developed and engaging – but this is a really difficult feat to pull off. Judith not only manages it, but she also keeps the reader guessing through to the end. (I will digress for a moment and say that another author who is a master of this kind of book is Beatriz Williams, who I do not represent, but whose work I love unreservedly. And yes, I know I promised I would only offer two recommendations, but this is so tough!).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the luscious food writing in THE CAKE THERAPIST. Judith is a trained chef and a James Beard nominated cookbook author — and her culinary expertise very much shows on the pages of her novel. If you are someone who likes to eat dessert or read about it, then this book is for you! Just make sure you have treats on hand so you can snack along with the characters.

Crazy Rich AsiansCRAZY RICH ASIANS (the book I don’t represent)

CRAZY RICH ASIANS by Kevin Kwan is my next recommendation. When this novel was first released, several reviewers called it a cross between modern day Jane Austen and an over-the-top episode of Dynasty – and to me, this is a pretty spot-on, and totally enticing, description. The story introduces us to three mega-rich, hyper-pedigreed Chinese families based in Singapore and then offers a giddy account of the drama that ensues when the golden boy of the leading family brings his American-born Chinese girlfriend back home for the wedding of the year. CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a thinking person’s beach read on steroids. It is juicy and smart and fun and witty and nearly impossible to put down. And it is also genuinely hilarious. I don’t often laugh out loud when I’m reading, but I did with this book, and more than once. That alone sent me back for a second read.

And here again, if you are a lover of good food writing, this is a novel you shouldn’t miss. Singaporeans are obsessive about food culture, and in CRAZY RICH ASIANS that love is on full display. Kwan describes every meal in literally mouthwatering detail, making you long for a live version of each bite of chili crab, chicken rice and satay that appears on the page. I’m a huge fan of books that transport me to another place, time or dinner table — and CRAZY RICH ASIANS took me exactly where I wanted to go.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Kim Wright

 

Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W

Today’s guest is Kim Wright, author of LOVE IN MIDAIR, THE UNEXPECTED WALTZ, and most recently, THE CANTERBURY SISTERS. We think you’ll resonate with the novels she has tucked in her beach bag this summer, and–if you’ve been keeping up with this series–you might notice that a trend is starting to develop.

Summer Reading Series

Louise Penny : THE NATURE OF THE BEAST

This mystery isn’t set to release until August, but I love Penny’s French Canadian series featuring Inspector Gamache and I’m already chomping at the bit. She deftly mixes police procedural, great characters, and a terrific small town setting. (Although I’ve got to say, it’s a bit like Murder She Wrote. For a small town in Quebec, Three Pines has A LOT of murders.) This particular installment is built around a kid who cries wolf, constantly telling stories about alien invasions and claiming he sees dinosaurs in the woods. Of course no one believes him, but when the child actually disappears, all the adults, especially Gamache, wish they’d paid closer attention to the boy’s wild tales. Maybe I love this concept because I was an “overimaginative” child myself!)

Susan Crandall: THE FLYING CIRCUS

Nothing beats a road trip story. When you take people out of their home towns, you also take them out of their comfort zones and ultimately out of themselves. Road trips shake us up and wake us up, and The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall sounds a whale of wild ride. It’s set in the 1920s, and involves three barnstormers who join ranks to tour the midwest doing airshows: Gil, a shellshocked WWI pilot with a barely-contained death wish, Cora, who was raised in a wealthy family whose fortune was lost, and Henry, a young German immigrant on the lam from the law. Needless to say, they all have secrets which could destroy their little makeshift family and ground the flying circus forever. I love this period of history, and the characters sound great.

Julia Cameron: THE ARTIST’S WAY

Okay, I’ll admit it. This is my tenth trip through the Artist Way program and I give this book a lot of credit for helping me create a successful life as a full-time artist. Cameron has built a whole franchise out of her Artist Way techniques, but the original book is still the greatest. It asks you to commit twelve weeks to enhancing your creativity, through reading the chapters, writing in a journal every day (aka the famous “morning pages”), and going out on weekly artist dates. For an artist date, you just do something fun and whimsical, designed to shake up your routine. Last trip through, I did the program with two friends and we rotated planning artist dates – stuff like going to see a Monet exhibit, taking an Indian cooking class, visiting the local raptor center, planting kitchen herb gardens, getting makeovers at the Estee Lauder counter. This time through I’m doing it with my daughter, who has recently had her first baby and feels like her creative mojo has gone missing. I suspect it will do us both a lot of good.

Maggie Shipstead: ASTONISH ME

What’s astonishing is that I’ve held off this long waiting for the paperback to come out, because Astonish Me is right up my alley in terms of subject matter. I’m a competitive ballroom dancer whose last book was called The Unexpected Waltz, and Astonish Me explores the world of ballet. The heroine, Joan, is a ballerina who helps a Russian dancer named Arsian defect during the seventies. Despite the fact they perform together and become lovers, Joan’s career never really takes off while Arsian becomes a star. She moves away and marries the proverbial nice guy, then has a child, but lost dreams have a way of haunting us, even when we’ve rebuilt a promising new life. Joan’s son grows up to be a dance prodigy and soon enough she’s pulled back into the world she left and back into the orbit of Arsian. Sounds like the book has glamour, sex, gossip and tutus – what more could a reader want?

* * *

The Canterbury Sisters Cover ImageTHE CANTERBURY SISTERS

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime boyfriend abruptly dumped her, but, due to a hasty promise, she feels obligated to take her mother’s ashes to Canterbury Cathedral. Still woozy from the one-two punch of losing both her mother and her fiance, Che reluctantly embarks on the 42-mile walk from London to Canterbury with a tour group called The Broads Abroad. The women are an unlikely band of pilgrims but they – just like Chaucer’s characters in the original Canterbury Tales – swap stories as they walk, gradually growing closer and realizing that no woman is ever exactly as she seems.

 

read more

Summer Reading Series: Susan Meissner

Today’s post by Susan Meissner | @SusanMeissner

Susan Meissner became one of my favorite authors long before she became a friend. Not only is she a brilliant storyteller in her own right, but she has impeccable taste in books (she’s one of my go-to people for book recommendations). So there’s no way we would run a series like this without asking Susan to share what she’s reading these days. And if you’re new to her work, make sure you pick up a copy of her latest novel, SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE.

Summer Reading Series

One of the nicest aspects of summer are those extended, warm evenings that just never seem to end. Everyone stays up a little later, the pace of life is a little bit slower, the meals are a little more basic (if we can grill it, we eat it) and there truly is nothing worth watching on TV because all the networks are busy preparing for their fall shows. And because I never have a deadline in the summer, it’s an uber-supreme time to read! Here’s a look at what’s on my bedside table for the upcoming, deliciously long summer nights:

Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Even though there’s “snow” in the title, I can’t wait to get into this new novel by fellow Diegan Margaret Dilloway. I’m a big fan of books that dovetail a contemporary story with a historical one – it’s the only kind of story I write these days – so it’s already my cup of (iced) tea. The book is about two modern day American sisters – Drew and Rachel – who are caring for their Japanese mother as she slips into dementia. Moms asks her daughters to find a book in her sewing room which tells the tale of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe’s story of love and loss in twelfth-century Japan reveals truths about unbreakable bond between sisters, whether related by blood or just by life’s circumstances. Booklist says: “Spanning centuries, Dilloway’s intricate, multigenerational saga of repressive family dynamics offers a timeless look at the bonds of sisterhood.” And the cover is beautiful.

The Forever Bridge by T. Greenwood

San Diego boasts many fabulous writers! I am also looking forward to fellow San Diegan Tammy Greenwood’s newest novel, The Forever Bridge. Set in Vermont, this story starts with a family tragedy which the reader pieces together as the story unfolds. Told from varying points of view, this is a book about love, hope, forgiveness and the power to heal from brokenness. I love metaphors, and the bridge here is said to be an apt one for showing how people use them to get from one place to another, as in, from shattered to whole. Romantic Times says: “This is an eloquently written story about the deep and far-reaching effects of tragedy … Greenwood’s prose is powerful, the imagery is rich, and both lend the story additional emotional depth.”

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

Yes! Another book by a San Diego writer! Michelle Gable’s A Paris Apartment is out in paperback this summer (perfect for the beach or lake!) and I am getting one. Who doesn’t want to go to Paris in the summer? Michelle’s premise is delicious and inspired by a true event: the discovery of a flat in Paris full of art, furniture, and secrets, which had been shuttered for seventy years. A Sotheby’s expert in furniture is sent to Paris to examine the pieces and that’s where the excitement and the reader time-traveling starts. Library Journal, who gave it a starred review, said: “With its well-developed, memorable characters and the author’s skillful transitioning between story lines…this stunning and fascinating debut will capture the interest of a wide audience but particularly those interested in stories about women behind famous men.”

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was my favorite read in 2013 so I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. In this book, Kate focuses on Ursula’s brother Teddy from said favorite book. The UK paper The Daily Telegraph said: “Atkinson gives Teddy’s wartime experiences the full treatment in a series of thrilling set pieces. Even more impressive, though, is her ability to invest the more everyday events with a similar grandeur…almost as innovative as Atkinson’s technique in Life After Life – and possibly more authentic as an expression of how it feels to be alive…” Wow. What I loved most about Life After Life was Kate’s clever disregard for the conventional timeline. That book had the most innovative story construction I’ve ever read. So I am anxious to see if I will agree with The Telegraph. And I loved Ursula’s family, so the idea of spending part of the summer with her brother, Teddy, sounds pretty good. Fingers crossed on this one.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Like probably countless other SheReads devotees, I am looking forward (with a bit of trepidation) to Harper Lee’s first new release since before I was born. I have wondered since news came of the imminent release of this newly discovered book if Ms. Lee really, truly wanted Go Set a Watchman out there when for the last five decades before now, she didn’t. But what thrills me silly is, I hear this book features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later, including Scout. The publisher says: “Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.” Okay, now my fingers are really crossed. Toes, too.

So how about you? What books are you looking forward to reading this summer?

* * *

Secrets of a Charmed LifeThe author of A Fall of Marigolds journeys from the present day to World War II England, as two sisters are separated by the chaos of wartime …

She stood at a crossroads, half-aware that her choice would send her down a path from which there could be no turning back. But instead of two choices, she saw only one—because it was all she really wanted to see…

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…

* * *

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include Secrets of A Charmed Life and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she’s not working on a novel, Susan writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to fostering a love for reading and writing for at-risk youth. Visit Susan at her website: www.susanmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/susan.meissner

read more

Under The Bigtop: A Reading Roundup

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

Perhaps it was The Night Circus. Or maybe it was Water For Elephants. But something ignited our curiosity about all things circus. So today we’ve got a roundup of new novels that focus on the spectacles that captured our imaginations as children… and adults.

The Flying CircusThe Flying Circus by Susan Crandall

Publisher’s description:

From the bestselling and award-winning author of Whistling Past the Graveyard comes an adventure tale about two daredevils and a farm boy who embark on the journey of a lifetime across America’s heartland in the Roaring Twenties.

Set in the rapidly changing world of 1920s America, this is a story of three people from very different backgrounds: Henry “Schuler” Jefferson, son of German immigrants from Midwestern farm country; Cora Rose Haviland, a young woman of privilege whose family has lost their fortune; and Charles “Gil” Gilchrist, an emotionally damaged WWI veteran pilot. Set adrift by life-altering circumstances, they find themselves bound together by need and torn apart by blind obsessions and conflicting goals. Each one holds a secret that, if exposed, would destroy their friendship. But their journey of adventure and self-discovery has a price—and one of them won’t be able to survive it.

As they crisscross the heartland, exploring the rapidly expanding role of aviation from barnstorming to bootlegging, from a flying circus to the dangerous sport of air racing, the three companions form a makeshift family. It’s a one-of-a-kind family, with members as adventurous as they are vulnerable, and as fascinating as they are flawed. But whatever adventure—worldly or private—they find themselves on, they’re guaranteed to be a family you won’t forget.

Church of MavelsChurch Of Marvels by Leslie Parry

Publisher’s description:

New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. An orphan himself, Sylvan rescues the child, determined to find where she belongs.

Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.

A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile, overbearing mother. On the ward she meets another young woman of ethereal beauty who does not speak, a girl with an extraordinary talent that might save them both.

As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments, a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless.

The Thunder of GiantsThe Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane

Publisher’s description:

The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11” and just over 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century.

Told in parallel, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. While Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements. Both meticulously researched and resounding with the force of myth, Joel Fishbane’s The Thunder of Giants blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them.

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Publisher’s description:

I came across this book at auction as part of a larger lot I purchased on speculation. The damage renders it useless to me, but a name inside it led me to believe it might be of interest to you or your family….

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off to join the circus six years ago.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things-including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned-always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he stop it in time to save Enola?

read more