Author Archive | marybeth

The One Book You Should Read This Winter

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

Technically we’re recommending two books today. So please forgive us the title of this post. But it was inspired by a conversation Ariel and I had recently about reading in general and book recommendations specifically. We wondered what we would say if someone told us they only had time to read one book this winter. What would we tell them to read? It’s an interesting question and it forced us to think about the books that have truly captured our imaginations recently. So we’re answering it here and we hope it inspires you to both read these novels and to share your own recommendation. We’ll be out and about on social media today using the hashtag #onebookwinter and we’d love you to join us!

Marybeth:

I’m a sucker for a good page turner. Give me a murder, a small town, and some folks keeping secrets and I’m hooked. So that’s why my #onebookwinter is EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE by Mindy Mejia. A novel about the investigation and aftermath of the murder of a beautiful teenager in a small town, this book is about far more than who done it.

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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Everything you want me to beFull of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

Ariel:

In the spring of 2016 I found myself in a miserable reading drought. I started book after book only to abandon them a few pages in. Nothing seemed to click. It happens from time to time and it’s always discouraging but I have learned to wait and pay attention and the right book will come at the right time. So when TWO IF BY SEA by Jacquelyn Mitchard showed up on my doorstep I just knew it was the one. I could feel it from the first page. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never read one her novels before. She’s one of those authors that I have missed along the way but I am now besotted with her and will go back and find everything she’s ever written. I actually dreamed about the characters in TWO IF BY SEA when I wasn’t reading. I counted down the hours until I could pick it up again. I loved it. Just utterly loved it. And when I was finished I wrote her to say how much the book meant to me. (This is something I’ve started doing since my near-miss with Pat Conroy). Ten months have passed and I still think about this book on a regular basis. That, I think, is the gift of reading. And it’s why I’m recommending this novel today.

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean, an epic story of courage and devotion that spans three continents and the entire map of the human heart.

TwoIfBySeaJust hours after his wife and her entire family perish in the Christmas Eve tsunami in Brisbane, American expat and former police officer Frank Mercy goes out to join his volunteer rescue unit and pulls a little boy from a submerged car, saving the child’s life with only seconds to spare. In that moment, Frank’s own life is transformed. Not quite knowing why, Frank sidesteps the law, when, instead of turning Ian over to the Red Cross, he takes the boy home to the Midwestern farm where he grew up. Not long into their journey, Frank begins to believe that Ian has an extraordinary, impossible telepathic gift; but his only wish is to protect the deeply frightened child. As Frank struggles to start over, training horses as his father and grandfather did before him, he meets Claudia, a champion equestrian and someone with whom he can share his life—and his fears for Ian. Both of them know that it will be impossible to keep Ian’s gift a secret forever. Already, ominous coincidences have put Frank’s police instincts on high alert, as strangers trespass the quiet life at the family farm.

The fight to keep Ian safe from a sinister group who want him back takes readers from the ravaged shores of Brisbane to the middle of America to a quaint English village. Even as Frank and Claudia dare to hope for new love, it becomes clear that they can never let Ian go, no matter what the cost. A suspenseful novel on a grand scale, Two If by Sea is about the best and worst in people, and the possibility of heroism and even magic in ordinary life.

If you could only recommend one book this winter what would it be?

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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What’s Saving Our Lives This Winter

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

The winter can be a long, hard season. Cold weather, inclement conditions and lots of time indoors can start to get to us. So when Anne Bogel asked people to share what’s saving their lives during this season, we thought it was a grand idea! So today we’re sharing, linking up over at Anne’s blog, and looking forward to hearing from others. Let us know in the comments what’s saving your life right now!

Marybeth:

Planner videos: I admit I may have a problem with watching these too much. I’m seeking help, looking into counseling, and considering a 12 step program. But in the meantime, I’ve been watching all the planner girls on You Tube who’ve shared their 2017 set-ups, and helped me set up my planner system for this year in turn. I learn from them and am inspired by them. If you’re like me and love planners, go to YouTube and search “Planner Set Up” or “Planner flip throughs” and you will come up with more videos than any one person has time to watch. #sorrynotsorry

Elliptical: Our treadmill died this past summer so we found a used elliptical and put it in my office, right by my desk. This means that I can’t pretend I don’t see it. It also means even on the worst weather days this winter, I get my workout on. I always feel better after and am infinitely glad I have this piece of equipment at my disposal.

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Russian Tea: I mix this up, put it in a Mason jar, and it is my evening drink of choice– a little substitute treat during that time I typically pour a glass of wine or want a bowl of ice cream. It’s the perfect blend of warmth and taste, if you like the taste of orange and spice. If you’d prefer a low/no calorie version, you can find it here. (I’m making it as soon as I run out of what I have!)

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The La La Land Soundtrack: It’s pretty much on repeat play around our house. The other night my daughter and I both had “Here’s to the ones who dream,” stuck in our heads and could not stop singing/humming it. No matter how much the winter doldrums get to me, they can always be lifted with a few songs from this soundtrack!

Community Bible Study: I went back to the local chapter of this international organization after a long, long absence and these Thursday morning get-togethers, with what has turned out to be a fabulous group of women, have been a weekly boost. Real community with other women is irreplaceable. And once a month we have delicious food, which isn’t too shabby either.

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Ariel:

Levoflaxacin: I woke up on January 10th feeling perfectly fine. And I did all the normal things that morning. I walked the kids to the bus stop and chatted with the other parents for a good fifteen to twenty minutes after the bus pulled away. (We do this every day. Can’t explain why, but the corner outside my house is a little block party every weekday morning. I love it!) I tidied the house and checked email and took a shower. And then, about the time that I was rinsing the conditioner from my hair, my back started to ache. By the time I sat down at my desk thirty minutes later it was like I was being swallowed by a wave. Fever and chills and total body aches. Within an hour I was immobile on the couch, which is exactly where my kids and husband found me when they came home later that day. I didn’t get out of bed for ten days. I had the flu last year and, upon visiting my doctor, was told there was nothing they could do for me. That I had to wait it out, and I might not feel better for three weeks. So even though I felt hideous and the timing was awful (I’m on deadline right now) I decided to rest and take care of myself and pray for the best. A week later the alarming side effects started showing up (I’ll spare you the details). I called my husband on the morning of the 17th and did something I’ve never done in the sixteen years we’ve been married: I told him to leave work and take me to the doctor. As it turns out, I didn’t have the flu. I had pneumonia. Really, really bad pneumonia that went untreated for seven days because I’m an idiot and thought I could diagnose myself. Moral of the story: if you have a fever for longer than three days get yourself to the doctor. I am contrary and stupid and over-confident in the health of my immune system and you don’t want to be like me. In the end I was prescribed an antibiotic called levoflaxacin. I’ve come to think of it as turpentine for the lungs and I started feeling better immediately.

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My husband: See above. Someone had to run carpool and cook dinner and do the laundry and, of course, go to work. My husband brought me Gatorade and tissue and ensured that I was at least trying to eat. He made sure the kids brushed their teeth and wore deodorant and put on clean underwear every day (they’re all big kids and you wouldn’t think they’d need the reminder but I am convinced that the young, male mind is filled with nothing but white noise with occasional flashes of panic, so yes, they need the reminder, daily). Anyway, he saved my life in a thousand tiny ways and I understand why the words “in sickness and in health” are so common in wedding vows.

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Random things: almost being finished with my new novel, my house shoes, these d’anjou pear and watercress candles I discovered at Publix, good kitty litter (We got a cat! Her name is Hazel! She poops in the house! We didn’t plan very well for that up front!), the handmade quilt my grandmother gave me twenty years ago.

So, we’re dying to know, what’s saving YOUR life right now?

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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What We’re Into: January 2017 Edition

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

It’s that time again– time to reveal what we’ve been obsessed with this first month of 2017. As always it’s random and personal and a little off beat. But we are too, so this list shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Marybeth:

Chapstick Total Hydration in the color Merlot— This has been the perfect daily wear for my lips. It combines the combination of a color I like to wear and the moisturizer that I tend to need in the dry winter months.

This video made by one of my favorite planner You Tubers— she shares some great tips for packing a travel bag, and I love her choice of reading material for the plane!

lala land

La La Land– I loved this movie so much, have seen it twice in theaters, and am tickled with all the Oscar nominations it received. I wrote about my thoughts regarding the message of the movie on She Reads– you can read it here!

Post it notes– these aren’t anything new of course, but this month I’ve placed some in strategic locations around my house, along with a pen, for recording things I think of right where I am. So many times I think of something, intend to keep it in my head till I can get somewhere to write it down but poof! It’s gone before I do so. People who visit our home might wonder why I have a pack of post its in the water holder of my elliptical or in my makeup drawer, but I know it’s to capture thoughts when they come to me. Maybe now I’ll be more productive.

And speaking of productive, if you’re trying to do better in that department in this new year, this new podcast, Productivity  Paradox is one I just subscribed to.

Ariel:

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Photo credit: Native Union

Native Union Night Cable. My husband got this for me for Christmas. And by “got it for me” I mean that I get to use it occasionally. It’s a charging cable with a weighted knot so your phone doesn’t slide off your nightstand. And (bonus!) the cord is 10 feet long so you can plug it in anywhere and don’t have to use little T-Rex arms just to turn off your alarm in the morning. I’m all about the little things that make life easier and this definitely qualifies.

Calphalon Omelet Pan. One of my big goals for this year is to eat breakfast every day. That shouldn’t even rank as a goal, I know, but somewhere along the way I started hating breakfast. Probably about the same time that I started over-consuming coffee. And since it’s really bad for your health to skip breakfast (and to drink too much coffee loaded with sugar and cream), I’m trying to get back on track. And I’m trying to make it high protein and the easiest way to do that is to eat eggs. Alas, I HATE eggs. Unless they are scrambled, deviled, or in an omelet. Therefore, I bought my husband an omelet pan for Christmas so he can make me breakfast every day. See what I did there?

Tamed Jalapeños. They’re like the perfect love child between a jalapeño and a banana pepper and I’ve been putting them on everything lately. Deviled eggs (don’t knock it till you try it). Nachos. Salads. Omelets. You name it. I love jalapeños but I don’t love how the heat takes over what you’re eating and prevents you from actually tasting your meal. So these are the perfect solution. They have a little bit of heat with just the right amount of vinegar and a lot of taste. BOOM! The garnish of my dreams.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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The Message of La La Land

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

lala land

It should be said that I was never a skeptic. Perhaps because I had watched Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone together in Crazy Stupid Love and already knew the onscreen chemistry they would share. Perhaps because there was something shimmering and magical even in the trailer that was out months and months ago, something that made me say to myself, “I want to write a novel that makes people feel the way that trailer just made me feel.” Just the trailer. So when the movie released I was certain to see it, soon, and several times.

I didn’t have to be convinced, and yet I was still surprised by La La Land. From the vast opening number with people dancing and singing for miles, to that last look, I was captivated. But more than that I was moved by what–to me– was the message of the movie. I expected the singing, the dancing, the chemistry, the colors. I just didn’t expect the message woven into the story. Because typically musicals are for fun, not thinking. And yet, this movie has left me thinking for weeks.

What was the message? Well, I don’t want to say too much for those of you who may not’ve seen it. So I will just say this: If you have a dream (“Here’s to the ones who dream”), you should go out and do something daring. You should take a risk. You should be different, swim against the tide. You may not succeed in the way you initially envision success. But in the risk you will find success you didn’t see coming.

As a writer, I’ve played it safe and I’ve taken risks. And the risks have paid off far more than the playing it safe. Sure, the risks were scarier, bolder, more vulnerable. Sure, some have blown up in my face. But some have changed everything and that, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.

If you’ve seen the movie, this will make sense. (Or, I hope it does.) And if you haven’t seen the movie, I hope that the message of La La Land will intrigue you. Because my bet is, you have a dream. (Or, I hope you do.) And dreams, like anything, have to be fed to survive. This movie feeds dreams.

So I hope you’ll go see it. I hope you’ll get past whatever misgivings you may have about musicals, you won’t listen to the people who say they don’t like the ending (it was, after all, the ending the story demanded), and you’ll go get lost in the movie. And along the way, you’ll be inspired by the message. Inspired to go dream your own dreams and take your own risks. And occasionally, because this life demands it, break out into song.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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My Top Books of 2016

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Annnnd, we’re back! Though I have to say I don’t feel like we ever went away. For me, the word “break” was a misnomer over this particular Christmas holiday. Between trips and get-togethers and ill-timed deadlines and illness, the last month has been a whirlwind. In that way, I think my whole family was happy to get back into more of a routine with school starting again and a new year to dive into.

However you celebrated– whether you feel rested or not– we are glad you’re back with us, and we hope you’ll keep coming back this year, as we’ve got some fun things planned!

I wanted to share a rundown of my favorite books from this year. Listed in no certain order, except the last one, which was my favorite of this year!

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher– quirky, unexpected, sweet

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes– inspiring, informative, funny

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley– gripping, tense, well written– couldn’t put it down

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney– characters who stayed with me long after the story was over, gorgeous writing

It’s Ok To Laugh by Nora Mcinnerney Purmort– cried my way through it, even with all the crying, still glad I read it

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand– it’s not summer without her stories and this one didn’t disappoint

Faithful by Alice Hoffman– reactivated my love of this author and had me going back to read her older stuff

The Girls by Emma Cline– dark, gorgeous, disturbing

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon– loved, loved, loved it on audio, read by the author, as it should be

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty– anything by our #ReadSavannah keynote author gets my vote

And #1…

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins– Maybe it’s just because I’m a child of the 80’s and a huge fan, but this one moved me, surprised me, and had me thinking about it anytime I wasn’t listening to it. And yes, I said listening. I think that the audio version of this book is the only way to experience it. Because Phil himself reads it, so you hear it exactly how he meant it to be rendered on the page. I was more than a little sad that it was over. And I’m jealous of any of you who haven’t had the pleasure.

Later in the week Ariel will share her favorite books of 2016 too (Except there won’t be as many because she’s a slow-poke and braindead and on deadline…says Ariel herself, who edits this blog and all the posts and loves to have the final word…Hi guys, glad to be back!).

2016 was a wonderful reading year– and 2017 is shaping up to be another one! Keep checking back with for more great books you’re not going to want to miss. And we apologize if your TBR stack starts looking like this! #sorrynotsorry

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About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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Book, Meet Book

Today we’ve got two delightfully delicious books who just have to meet– so for all you foodie fiction lovers, read on.

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city-bakerThe City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

When Olivia Rawlings—pastry chef extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she escapes to the most comforting place she can think of—the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend Hannah. But the getaway turns into something more lasting when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job. Broke and knowing that her days at the club are numbered, Livvy accepts.

Livvy moves with her larger-than-life, uberenthusiastic dog, Salty, into a sugarhouse on the inn’s property and begins creating her mouthwatering desserts for the residents of Guthrie. She soon uncovers the real reason she has been hired—to help Margaret reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest.

With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small town life. And when she meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from Seattle to tend his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought.

But then another new arrival takes the community by surprise, and Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee—or stay and finally discover what it means to belong. Olivia Rawlings may finally find out that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better.

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secret-ingredientThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell

26-year-old Rachel Monroe has spent her whole life trying to keep a very unusual secret: she can make wishes come true. And sometimes the consequences are disastrous. So when Rachel accidentally grants an outlandish wish for the first time in years, she decides it’s time to leave her hometown―and her past―behind for good.

Rachel isn’t on the road long before she runs out of gas in a town that’s not on her map: Nowhere, North Carolina―also known as the town of “Lost and Found.” In Nowhere, Rachel is taken in by a spit-fire old woman, Catch, who possesses a strange gift of her own: she can bind secrets by baking them into pies. Rachel also meets Catch’s neighbor, Ashe, a Southern gentleman with a complicated past, who makes her want to believe in happily-ever-after for the first time in her life.

As she settles into the small town, Rachel hopes her own secrets will stay hidden, but wishes start piling up everywhere Rachel goes. When the consequences threaten to ruin everything she’s begun to build in Nowhere, Rachel must come to terms with who she is and what she can do, or risk losing the people she’s starting to love―and her chance at happiness―all over again.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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4 Novels I Read As A Child That Are Still Informing My Writing Today

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Many of these novels were read to me by my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Diebold. (Teachers, never discount the lasting impact you can have on a child.) And as I think about why I loved these novels—and how much I loved them—I see their impact on me even still, in my decision to become a writer, and in the writing itself.

In no particular order they are as follows (summary followed by my thoughts):

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mandyMandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

Mandy, a ten-year-old orphan, dreams of a place to call her own. Escaping over the orphanage wall to explore the outside world, Mandy discovers a tiny deserted cottage in the woods. All through the spring, summer, and fall, Mandy works to make it truly hers. Sometimes she “borrows” things she needs from the orphanage. Sometimes, to guard her secret, she even lies. Then, one stormy night at the cottage, Mandy gets sick, and no one knows how to find her—except a special friend she didn’t know she had.

I can’t help but think of my character Cailey from THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE as I read this short summary. She too is looking for a home, a place to belong. She too has gotten a bad deal in life, but has pluck and gumption, which helps her navigate life.

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harriet-the-spyHarriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Will Harriet find a way to put her life and her friendships back together?

Harriet made me realize I wasn’t the only one who was nosy curious. I wasn’t the only one who carried a notebook everywhere I went and recorded the life happening around me, from the significant to the mundane. Harriet made me feel normal.

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dannyDanny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Danny has a life any boy would love—his home is a gypsy caravan, he’s the youngest master car mechanic around, and his best friend is his dad, who never runs out of wonderful stories to tell. But one night Danny discovers a shocking secret that his father has kept hidden for years. Soon Danny finds himself the mastermind behind the most incredible plot ever attempted against nasty Victor Hazell, a wealthy landowner with a bad attitude. Can they pull it off? If so, Danny will truly be the champion of the world.

I like to write about quirky characters who live on the fringe, who don’t quite fit for whatever reason. Danny is such a character, and an unlikely hero to boot. In the original draft of THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE, there was a character known only as “The Watcher,” who lived on the fringe and who became an unlikely hero. Though he ended up on the cutting room floor, I know he lives in Sycamore Glen, the fictional neighborhood I created. It is enough just for me to know.

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north-to-freedomNorth To Freedom by Anne Holm

David’s entire twelve-year life has been spent in a grisly prison camp in Eastern Europe. He knows nothing of the outside world. But when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it. With his vengeful enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope in this strange new world, where his only resources are a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two aching feet, and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. Is that enough to survive?

David’s extraordinary odyssey is dramatically chronicled in Anne Holm’s classic about the meaning of freedom and the power of hope.

This book features yet another child enduring hard things and emerging on the other end, changed, yet victorious. I like strong kids. Because I think we all have a strong child still inside of us, reminding us who we once were, urging us to always be working at being better.

 Do you have favorite books from your childhood that, in thinking about it, you see informing you today either in your family or your career—or both? Share them with us today!

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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AUTHOR TO AUTHOR: ELLA JOY OLSEN AND MARYBETH WHALEN, PART TWO

Today’s post by Ella Joy Olsen and Marybeth Whalen | @EllaJoyOlsen and @MarybethWhalen

We’re thrilled to be back with part two of our interview between Marybeth Whalen and Ella Joy Olsen today. If you missed part one you can read it here.

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Marybeth: Adam’s death is a crushing loss to Ivy. Is there an image or motif in the book that you would say symbolizes or especially communicates the impact of that loss? Did you intend that when you began the story or did it emerge?

Ella: This is a tricky question for me. While the enormity of Ivy’s sorrow at the sudden loss of her husband is justified, I consider Root, Petal, Thorn more a book about healing and moving beyond her overwhelming grief. So while she’s crushed, she doesn’t stay there for the whole of the novel.

Motif…let’s see…working on their fixer-upper bungalow together is a shared passion for Ivy and Adam. But after his death she can’t bear to continue remodeling without him by her side. However, she knows she must be strong for her two children, and that means finishing up and putting away the tools.

While getting her house in order, Ivy begins to uncover a variety clues from past occupants, from buried wine bottles to a half-finished embroidery sampler. It seems her home has a tale to tell. As she learns the stories of four other women who called her house a home, their stories of love and loss help Ivy accept she can go on without Adam. She’ll always remember him, but despite loss, she will survive. So I guess the motif of this sentiment is the home, itself. It’s a place with a deep past. One full of sorrow and joy.

Marybeth: Which came first for you– the house and all its history or the main character and all her pain?

Ella: This is an easy one. The house and history! I live in a hundred year old bungalow and throughout the years my husband and I have spent crazy time and money fixing it up, making it ours. While we worked we would find amazing things past owners had (purposefully or inadvertently) left behind. I won’t list them all here, but many of our discoveries made it into the novel.

Though I’ve researched, I’ll never know exactly who walked across my same wood floors or looked out the same windows, but I love to imagine. So, when my youngest started school full-time, I decided to put pen to paper and write about the characters who’d taken up residence in my mind. And Root, Petal, Thorn was born.

With that said, I started this novel shortly after my sister died in a boating accident (she was overcome by Carbon Monoxide while swimming). Ivy’s story absolutely reflects my personal grieving process.

Marybeth: You’ve said that you drew inspiration from your own neighborhood. My neighborhood was also a huge inspiration for my novel. Can you give us some specific ways your neighborhood inspired you?

Ella: Of course! Root, Petal, Thorn is set in Sugar House, a community originally founded by Brigham Young (the prophet of the LDS church) to grow sugar beets and process them into refined sugar. Though the sugar was a failed experiment, the business center and neighborhood endured, so my neighborhood is one of the oldest in the valley. I love the history of my town, so it was a treat to research facts from all different time periods. I studied old photos, fact-checked my narrative, and read a bunch of non-fiction books.

I also drew from the current day awesomeness of my neighborhood. There is a sense of community in Sugar House. People are out on their porches, they ride their bikes to the local grocery, the library is over-run with children, and enormous trees canopy every street. It’s a great place to live.

Marybeth: You present a balanced portrayal of Salt Lake City, acknowledging its Mormon roots but showing that there is more to the place than that. Was that your intent or did it just happen?

Ella: The novel is based in my hometown, and for better or worse, the LDS faith is a part of our state’s past and present. To write an accurate novel based in Salt Lake City, the story must be touched by the church. Not to mention, my own ancestry is tightly entwined with church history and Mormon migration west. With that said, I’m not Mormon. I consider the history of the state and the modern-day believers an asset to my community, so it was very easy to write a balanced portrayal. The tone of the novel was likely organic. I had no religious agenda when I began.

Marybeth: One of your characters has bipolar disorder. How much research did you have to do? How did you put yourself in her shoes and write her from a place of total empathy?

Ella: Oh, I’m glad you feel Lainey was written from a place of empathy! Lainey was the last historic character I wrote. I could see her in my mind, and I knew I wanted her challenges to be more internal rather than foist upon her by world events (like several of the other historic characters). Initially, she was in an abusive relationship, but I found I was spending too much time with her awful husband. I’ve had several bouts of depression, personally, and just those weeks when I felt I’d never be happy again, made me want to write an account of invisible internal struggle.

Also, I have a sister-in-law who’s dealt with bipolar for most of her adult life and I’ve witnessed the effects. She was incredibly kind to share some of her trials. Along with her first-person account, I read a couple of memoirs for a broader perspective. Lainey was the hardest character to write, but many have said she’s their favorite.

Marybeth: And most of all have you ever renovated a home? If so how is it similar to creating a novel??

Ella: As I mentioned above, I live in a historic home. Historic is a lovely word for: this place was lived in for one hundred long years. Any dwelling that stands for a century has felt some serious wear and tear, so I have without question, done my fair share of renovating.

Some changes were huge: plumbing, new kitchen. Some small: paint, new flooring. But each required removing layers of “improvements” made by past occupants, you see, our home isn’t your typical old-granny home where one person lived in it, collecting gorgeous patina year by year. It was a home loved across the decades, and a home that’s loved, is a home that’s continually changed. In our case, someone tore out all of our old woodwork (including the floor boards), dug out the basement, lowered the ceilings, ripped out the hearth and replaced it with Pepto-Bismol pink tile. To get to the lovely bones of the house, our renovation process was like stripping away layers of time and trend.

In this way, I’d say editing a novel is like remodeling. You start with a rough draft and peel back the layers of drivel you’ve just written to get to the core of the thing, the truth of the story. After you glimpse it, you realize there’s potential, but it’s pretty shabby. You take a hammer to it, some sandpaper, and fresh paint. It’s a long and difficult process. Some of the changes you make you’ll have to rip out again and not everyone will like the paint color you choose. But someday, maybe years later, you’ll be ready to invite friends over for dinner.

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root-petal-thornIn this beautifully written and powerful debut novel, Ella Joy Olsen traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same  historic home over the course of a century—braided stories of love, heartbreak and courage connect the women, even across generations.

Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the  home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially  an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms.  Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.

Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. Day by day, as she attempts to rebuild her house and her resolve, she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. For every story has its sadness, but there is also the possibility of blooming again, even stronger and more resilient than before…

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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Author to Author: Ella Joy Olsen and Marybeth Whalen

Today’s post by Ella Joy Olsen and Marybeth Whalen | @EllaJoyOlsen and @MarybethWhalen

We’re delighted to feature our own Marybeth Whalen, along with Ella Joy Olsen, as they discuss their new books on the blog today. We’ll be back with part two of this author-to-author interview on Monday. And if you’ve not yet had a chance to read Marybeth’s novel, THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE, now would be the perfect time. Yes, we’re biased (*wink*) but yes, it’s also really that good.

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ELLA: As I was reading The Things We Wish Were True, I quickly became aware of deeper currents under a placid surface. Case in point, you seamlessly juxtaposed the festive atmosphere of a neighborhood swimming pool in the heat of a small-town summer with a near-drowning. Many seemingly idyllic scenes added to the ongoing tension. Was this sense of foreboding your intent? Did you know you were writing a thriller when you put pen to paper? Or did you have to turn-up the suspense in second or third drafts?

MARYBETH: It’s funny because I still don’t consider it a thriller! I would call it women’s fiction with an element of suspense. And yes, I liked creating this idyllic setting while weaving in these “all is not perfect” elements– just to put the reader on edge and point towards what is to come. I’ve taken some flak for the 4th of July scene being a little rough but that scene is in there for a purpose– to show that, while this neighborhood seems peaceful and sweet, there are some undesirable things going on.

ELLA: I loved the scenes at the pool: juice boxes warmed in the sun, the heat of concrete through a wet swimsuit. These details resonate with my own childhood and with the hours spent at swim lessons when my children were little. I’m always interested in a writer’s process. Did you grow up in a tight-knit town? And did you visit a local pool to collect some the most visceral details? Let’s talk inspiration.

MARYBETH: I actually live in a neighborhood I spent a lot of time in as a kid. We’ve lived here 16 years and we’re at the pool a lot so those details weren’t hard to come by! I grew up in a suburb of Charlotte NC and never left. So I understand the ins and outs of small town life and the pull that home has on you– whether you like it or not!

ELLA: This story is told through six voices: Cailey, Zell, Bryte, Jencey, Lance, and Everett. Cailey’s was the only voice written in first person. Would you consider her the main character or the character closest to your heart? What was the first voice that came to you? Which character was the hardest to write?

MARYBETH: I get the question about Cailey being the only one in first person a lot. And the only answer I have is I just wrote her the way I heard her in my head. She told me her story, and I wrote it down. (And yes, it freaks my husband and children out to know that I hear from people who aren’t really there. But they’re quite real to me!)  And yes, she was nearest and dearest to my heart and I think that is reflected (perhaps unfairly– sorry, other characters) in the story. As for hardest to write, I think just making sure Bryte and Jencey were distinct characters was my biggest challenge. They were from similar backgrounds, both moms, of similar ages, etc. and I didn’t want them to be interchangeable. I had to work at that.

ELLA: The novel is full of twists and turns. Some I saw coming (effective foreshadowing), but many I didn’t anticipate, at all. Did you plan these plot twists before you wrote, or did they come to you as you explored your characters? Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Can you speak again to process?

MARYBETH: I did plan the plot twists. The fun part about this book was I was able to take several story lines I’d been thinking about for a long time and sort of just throw them all into one story. So some of the things that happen were things I’d been wanting to do in a story for quite a while. I definitely plot my books– but also enjoy the fun of the little surprises that happen along the way too– the things the characters have up their sleeves that I do not know when I sit down to write.

ELLA: If I were to pull a theme from this book, in my perspective, it would be innocence lost, but also new beginnings. Maybe a comprehensive word for both concepts would be redemption. If you were to give this novel a big picture meaning, what would it be? And why?

MARYBETH: You hit the nail on the head when you said redemption– all of my stories have to have that or I can’t write them. I live in the real world and I write about real world stuff. The good, the bad and the ugly. But I also believe in hope above all. If you read the author’s note at the end of the book, I explain the hope in this particular story.

ELLA: I think the entire novel harkened me back to youthful relationships. I was intrigued by best friends Bryte and Jencey and the first love between Jencey/Bryte and Everett. I think childhood loves and friendships can crush a person more fully than those forged in adulthood. Why is this, do you think? And if this question doesn’t hit too close to home, did you draw these emotional details from personal experience?

MARYBETH: The old saying, “You never get over your first love” makes for a nice theme to explore in a story. With this one, a long time ago I heard about a girl I used to know who went on to marry a boy who was very popular in high school, but she wasn’t. And I always wondered about that– how she felt to be married to someone who was out of her league when they were young. And how that informed the marriage dynamic as adults. So I just wanted to play with that. Like I said, in this story I was able to dig into several things I’ve thought about for quite awhile. As my husband will attest to, I’m always thinking!

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TTWWWTIn an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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On Grandparents’ Day

Today’s post by critically acclaimed author, Michael Morris | @MichaelMorrisBk

michael-morrisWhen I visit book clubs to talk about Slow Way Home the most commonly asked question is “are you the character Brandon?

It’s a reasonable question. The novel takes place in the early 1970s. Readers often look at me and begin calculating my age, realizing that like Brandon, I too, was a young boy in the early 70s. Their squinting eyes and lingering gaze always give them away.

Slow Way Home is Brandon Willard’s journey through a custody battle between the grandparents who are raising him and the addicted mother who shows up wanting him back. When the grandparents are ordered to return Brandon to their daughter, these God-fearing farm owners in North Carolina risk everything by fleeing with him. They assume different identifies and establish a new life in a fishing village in Florida.

While my mama is relieved to know I didn’t write an autobiography, there are elements of my life in Brandon. I think if novelists are honest, they will admit there are pieces of themselves in the characters they create. But for the record, my mama did not abandon me at a bus station the way Brandon’s does in Slow Way Home.

Instead, my mama fled my abusive father when I was five. We moved into a trailer located in my grandparent’s backyard. I now realize this was for protection as much as convenience. While mama went to vocational school to learn secretarial skills so she could support us, my grandmother went to work on me. Every day right after lunch, we’d lay on the bed for an afternoon nap. As my eyes became heavy, she’d have me list out all the people in my life who love me. If I forgot an aunt or cousin, she’d add them to the list. And with each passing day that list grew longer.

My grandmother, Mother we called her, had an eighth grade education. She remains the wisest person I’ve known. Coming out of a hurricane of abuse, I have no doubt she saved my sanity. Her unconditional love and ability to know just what I needed at that traumatic time gave me stability. Five decades later, I still carry my grandmother’s gift with me. Thanks to her I walk through life knowing who I am and where I come from.

Like Brandon says of his grandmother “she ironed out the nervous places the same way she ironed the collar of my church shirt.” In Slow Way Home, Brandon’s grandmother, Nana, has Brandon recite all the people who love him just as I did as a boy. His grandmother secures his sanity, just as Mother did mine.

When I receive emails or letters about the novel, the scene of Brandon listing out the people who love him is the one most often mentioned. People tell me reading the novel caused them to have their children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews create their own lists of those who love them. And every time I read one of these notes, I whisper, “thank you Mother.”

Grandparents Day is a little known holiday that is celebrated the first Sunday after Labor Day. Hallmark might not promote it the way they do Mother’s Day or Father’s Day but I’m an ambassador. I sing the praises of my grandparents and the 2.5 million grandparents in this country who are raising their grandchildren.

Every reader brings her or his personal perspective to fiction. It’s what makes book club discussions so interesting. But for me Slow Way Home will forever be a love letter to grandparents who are a lifeline for the children who need them.

Slow Way Home was named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the St. Louis Dispatch. It’s now available for the first time on Audible.

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slow-way-homeOn the surface, Brandon Willard seems like your average eight-year-old boy. He loves his mama, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and G. I. Joe. But Brandon’s life is anything but typical.

Wise beyond his years, Brandon understands he’s the only one in this world he can count on. It’s an outlook that serves him well the day his mama leaves him behind at the Raleigh bus station and sets off to Canada with “her destiny” — the latest man that she hopes will bring her happiness. The day his mother leaves, Brandon takes the first step toward shaping his own destiny. Soon he sends himself spending pleasant days playing with his cousins on his grandparents’ farm and trying to forget the past. In the safety of that place, Brandon finally is able to trust the love of an adult to help iron out the wiry places until his nerves are as steady as any other boy’s.

But when Sophie Willard shows up a year later with a determined look in her eye and a new man in tow, Brandon’s grandparents ignore a judge’s ruling and flee the state with Brandon. Creating a new life and identity in a small Florida town, Brandon meets the people who will fill him with self-worth and self-respect. He slowly becomes involved with “God’s Hospital,” a church run by the gregarious Sister Delores, a woman who is committed to a life of service for all members of the community, black and white, regardless of some townsfolk’s disapproval.

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

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