Nobody Knows You Better

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

Ann Packer

Ann Packer, photo credit: Elena Seibert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Children's CrusadeAbout the book:

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

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

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

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

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When Real Life Inspires Fiction

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

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

Jane Shemilt

Jane Shemilt

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

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

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

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

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

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The DaughterAbout the book:

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

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

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

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

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Five Historical Novels For Spring

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

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

Mademoiselle ChanelMADEMOISELLE CHANEL by CW Gortner

Publisher’s description:

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

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

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

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

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

Scent of TriumphSCENT OF TRIUMPH by Jan Moran

Publisher’s description:

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

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

Girl of my DreamsGIRL OF MY DREAMS by Peter Davis

Publisher’s description:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher’s description: 

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

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

Tiffany GirlTIFFANY GIRL by Deeanne Gist

Publisher’s description:

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

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

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

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

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The Truth About Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Books of Spring

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

The Books of Spring

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

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

The Precious OneTHE PRECIOUS ONE by Marisa De Los Santos

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

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt of THE PRECIOUS ONE here.

The BooksellerTHE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson

A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

Read an excerpt of THE BOOKSELLER here.

The DaughterTHE DAUGHTER by Jane Shemilt

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt of THE DAUGHTER here.

 

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What We’re Into: (Belated) March Edition

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

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Marybeth:

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

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

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

This Easter bark for the kiddos.

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

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

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

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

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

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Ariel:

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

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

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

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

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What We Learned In March

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

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

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Marybeth:

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

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

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

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

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

Ariel:

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

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

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

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

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The Big Fat Lie Of The Author Bio

Today’s post by Ellen Potter | @EllenPotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never, NEVER does an author bio say:

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

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

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

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

 

* * *

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

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

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

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

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Book Club Recipe For The Magician’s Lie

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

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While handcuffed to a chair, Arden, the famous turn-of-the-century female illusionist, tells her story to a police officer whose own future depends on the ending, in Greer Macallister’s The Magician’s Lie. The Amazing Arden’s journey, which took her from a mountain farm, to a sojourn as a maid to one of the most notable families of the Gilded Era, the Vanderbilts, before she stole away to become the backbone of a traveling magician show, ends when her husband is found hacked to death at the close of one of her most astonishing acts. Virgil, the officer interviewing her through the night following the gruesome murder, must decide if the magician is telling the truth of her innocence, or if she was, in fact, the one who dealt the fatal blows.

I’m not usually a fan of books written in first person, but because The Magician’s Lie is told from the main character’s point of view, directly from her mouth as she answers Virgil’s questions, I was caught right up in the story and left pleasantly hanging at the end of every chapter, wondering what she’d have to say next. And because I lived the past decade of my life not far from the Biltmore Estate, and spent countless Sunday afternoons of those years exploring the house’s nooks and crannies, the period of time that Arden spent working there was my favorite part of the book. As tea and pastries have played such a large role in my visits to Biltmore, and most likely Arden’s role as a servant to guests and residents in the large home, I was inspired to create a recipe for tea cakes to go along with Macallister’s book. I was pleased when the little jam-filled cookies turned out so delicate and tasty that they disappeared right off the serving plate, not long after I dusted them with powdered sugar and served them up with tea. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. Ta-da!

Raspberry Lemon Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

1/2 c. salted butter

1/4 c. packed light brown sugar

2 c. all-purpose flour

The zest of 1 large lemon

1/4 tsp. pure lemon extract

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Approximately 1/4 c. raspberry preserves

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method:

Heat oven to 350F.

Using a mixer, cream the butter.

 

Whip in the brown sugar.

Stir in the flour, lemon zest and extract, and vanilla until a dough forms.

 

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Scoop the dough by the tablespoon and shape into round balls.

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Make a depression in the center of each.

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Fill each with with raspberry preserves. I used raspberry vanilla jam.

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Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

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Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Mine happened to be lavender.

Serve with tea.

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Yield: Approximately 1 dozen.

 

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Author to Author: The Historical Fiction Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by your’s truly | @ArielLawhon

We’re glad to be back today with the second part of our historical fiction Author to Author series in which I (Ariel) am on the hot seat. Again, many thanks to Doubleday for supplying the questions and the books for the giveaway (see the entry form below). Make sure you toss your name in the hat to win a copy of Kate Alcott’s new novel, A TOUCH OF STARDUST, and mine, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS.

Historical Fiction Collage

Q: Did you ever have to leave a wonderful piece of research “on the cutting room floor” because it just didn’t fit into the story? If so, what was it?

Ariel: This happens all the time. And it always feels like a minor amputation. In THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, I cut entire characters and sections of New York City history. I’m still a little sad when I think about it but the novel is better as a result.

Q: What’s your process? Does research happen before writing? Or are they happening simultaneously?

Ariel: For me, a novel always begins by accidentally stumbling upon some historical mystery, usually unsolved. I’m drawn toward those moments that stick in the public consciousness for decades, even centuries. A missing judge. An epic disaster. That sort of thing. And I like creating my own version of what could have happened. Once I settle on the premise for a new novel I spend several months doing initial research before I begin writing. I need to know who the real people were, the central characters, and what they were like. I learn everything I can about them. After that I research as needed. Which usually means that I keep my research materials spread out on the table beside my desk for easy access.

Q: What’s the most interesting offline resource you’ve used in your work?

Ariel: I’d have to say that so far the most interesting resource I’ve found was Stella Crater’s memoir, THE EMPTY ROBE, about her missing husband. It’s not often that one of your characters has published their own account of the story you’re trying to tell. Reading that was like riding on a Mobius strip. Surreal and fascinating and a bit unsettling at times.

Q: Who is your first reader?

Ariel: Sometimes I let my sister read early chapters. She’s magically able to deliver criticism in a way that makes me laugh. And I have two writer-friends that I trust with my fledgling books—one tells me everything I’ve done right and the other tells me everything I’ve done wrong and together they are the perfect critique partner. But apart from that I keep my books close to the vest. My own agent and editor don’t even get to see my work until I’m confident that the story works and the writing is strong and that, for now, I can’t make it better.

Q: What inspired you to write historical fiction?

Ariel: My own over-active imagination, I suppose. And a profound love of history. Looking back this makes perfect sense. My best subjects were always Creative Writing and History. They were bound to collide sooner or later. As a reader I gravitate toward historical fiction. So I try to write the book I most want to read.

Q: Have you ever encountered a real-life “character” in the course of your research that you could devote a whole other novel to?

Ariel: Yes. Absolutely. It happens all the time. While writing THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS I spent weeks on a research tangent about notorious gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond. And then another few days obsessed with Mae West. Neither of them will ever get their own book (at least not written by me) but they should.

Q: What do you like to read while you’re writing?

Ariel: I cannot, under any circumstances, read historical fiction while I’m writing. It messes with my head. It makes me want to quit. I fall prey to that horrible thing where I compare my work-in-progress to someone else’s finished novel and I want to drink turpentine then swallow a lit match. So I read outside of my genre. I read a lot of contemporary. Mystery. Fantasy. YA. I read to my kids (we’re currently alternating between INKSPELL, WATERSHIP DOWN, and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS).

Q: Do you listen to music while you’re writing or do you need quiet?

Ariel: It’s rare that I don’t listen to music while I write. Total silence would be ideal, of course, but I have four boys and they are young and loud and one of them has a voice with such a high pitch that I’m certain bats can hear him. My husband’s studio-grade isolation headphones can’t even block it out. If I leave the house to work I always listen to my Mumford and Sons Pandora channel. But if I’m working at home I listen to my workout playlist while I write—I’m doing an experiment with my current novel to see if this tricks my brain into thinking that it’s time to perform at a high level. Results to come.

Q: Historical Dinner Party: Who would be at the top of your guest list?

Ariel: You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a dinner party. So if I’m going to do this, I’d better do it right. C.S. Lewis would be there of course because Narnia changed my life. As would L.M. Montgomery—I still want to be a redhead because of her—and this old Scottish writer named George MacDonald (you’ve probably never heard of him but he’s my favorite) if for no other reason than his accent and ability to speak Gaelic. I’m a sucker for Scotsmen and this one wrote some of the truest most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. I’d invite Dick Francis because I loved all of his novels and he makes me want to own a horse and I wish he were still alive. Madeleine L’Engle because of her brain and to thank her for writing WALKING ON WATER, which I read at exactly the moment I needed it. Mark Twain because we need someone with swagger and wit and bravado. Ellen Raskin because I still adore THE WESTING GAME. And finally, my grandmother (she died when my dad was sixteen) because people say you could feel it when she walked into a room and I’d like to see all those formidable men struck dumb. I’m mean that way.

Q: You both are fortunate to work with one of the most dedicated editors in the business. Talk a bit about the editor’s role in your work and how your books have been enhanced through the editorial process.

Ariel: I feel like I hit the editor jackpot with Melissa. And I’m so thankful that she likes my novels and understands my guarded writing process. Under her care WIFE MAID MISTRESS went from a book that was “almost there” to something I’m very proud of. I’m currently in the middle of my second book with her and it’s proving to be even more enjoyable this time around. She helped me land on an idea and has provided critical feedback as I’ve written and I’m really looking forward to giving her the finished manuscript in a few weeks. I hope she shows me no mercy.

* * *

Wife Maid Mistress“Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.”–PEOPLE MAGAZINE

“More meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”–THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three.
Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

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