Author Archive | marybeth

How I Write A Novel

Everyone writes a novel differently. This is my process and it is by no means the right way to do it. It’s just what I’ve found works for me.

Step 1) I get an idea. Or a character starts talking to me. Or I think of a title.

Step 2) I scratch down whatever comes to mind. This scratching begins an ongoing documentation as I capture the elements of this particular story as it emerges. This includes character’s names, locations, unique aspects, plot twists, random bits of dialogue, what the main character wants, any themes I want to dig into, etc. (This can go on for months or years.)

Step 3) Once enough has emerged and I begin to feel like I’ve got something worth working with, I take a legal pad and brainstorm everything possible that I think might happen in this story. Per one of my writing mentors, Susan Meissner’s advice, I try to have 40 things.

Step 4) I walk away from that list and see what happens—what my subconscious does with those items.

Step 5) I write down whatever from that list has made the cut—and anything else that has come up in the interim—on index cards. I like index cards because they can be moved around. This becomes my scene list and will be what I work with from now on.

Step 6) I start writing. I write in order, start to finish. There has been only one time I got out of order and that was when I was really sad one day and didn’t feel like writing anything happy. So I flipped ahead til I found a sad scene and wrote that. Ideally, I write 1000 words per day for 90 days and at the end of that time, I’ve got a rough draft.

Step 7) I read over this rough draft and make many, many corrections and changes. This goes on for as long as I have until the manuscript is due.

Step 8) When I’ve looked at the document so much I can no longer see it anymore, I press send and, through the miracle of the internet, send my manuscript winging its way to the office of my editor. I try to be happy, take a break from writing, and not immediately jump into another project, though by then several other ideas are usually begging for my attention.

Marybeth’s third novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s featured novel. We’re giving away a number of prizes so don’t forget to toss your name in the hat if you haven’t entered.

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 Backstory Of The Story

I’ve told this story a few times now on various blogs, so forgive me if you’ve already heard the tale of how The Guest Book came to be. But it’s a story I like, one that shows the values of readers interacting with books and authors, which is what we celebrate here at She Reads every day. So I’m going to share it here.

I received a letter in response to my first novel, The Mailbox, a story about a mysterious mailbox on the coast of North Carolina that united two people over time and against the odds. The reader wanted to tell me how much the book meant to her, and to share that reading the story brought back memories of her girlhood days spent at her grandmother’s lake house. She wrote that her grandmother had a guest book in the lake house and that it was customary for the family members who vacationed there to leave a message about what they’d done and enjoyed in their time there, connecting the family members to each other via this simple little book. She shared that when she was very little—too small to write words, her father had encouraged her to draw a picture instead, reminding her that pictures could communicate as much as words.

Instantly an image filled my head—the little blonde girl bent intently over the guest book, endeavoring to make her drawing the best, to say all that she could about a wonderful vacation in this one drawing. But the little girl in my head wasn’t alone. She had this loving father standing in the background, watching proudly as she drew. In that moment, The Guest Book was born.

The other elements—Macy’s prayer, the three men showing up in answer, the final scene, her daughter and mom and brother—all emerged slowly, as I waited patiently for them to. I love this quote from author Andre Dubus about letting the elements emerge: “There’s a profound difference between making something up and imagining it. Imagining it instead is falling into your psyche, your imagination, and finding something that’s already there that wants to come out—instead of you pushing it into the world. “

I am so happy that reader wrote me and shared her story, because her story morphed into Macy’s story. A story I was surprised by, yet so happy to find.

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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Finding Our Gifts

The woman sitting next to me at the book club was nearly 70. She told me this proudly and I responded that she didn’t look 70, because she didn’t. She also shared with me that she was a painter, which made me think of Macy and the artist in The Guest Book, of the power of art—the communication that exists in a painting, no words needed. I told her I thought she would like my new book; that art figured prominently in the story.

Later another woman in the book club asked me about the process of writing, how I know what to write, where the story is leading, who the characters are. As always, I felt funny as I tried to put into words what is, for me, as natural and rhythmic as breathing. I fumbled around with my effort to explain “my process ” until the woman next to me, the artist, jumped in and explained it for me.

“I think it’s like when I paint, ” she offered. “I stand in front of that blank canvas and I see the picture that’s supposed to be there. And then I just paint until that picture emerges. ”

I sat, mute, as in my head the visual appeared—this 70 year old woman in her paint-spattered frock, sweeping a brush across a canvas until an image appears. I nodded. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. She wields a brush, I wield words, but it is all, somehow, the same.

And yet, it’s not. I could no more pick up a brush and make a painting appear that looked like more than a toddler’s efforts than I could figure out how these words I type end up on computer screens all over the world. Some things, for each of us, are just foreign. They are not our gifts, not what we were meant to do.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s not something we were meant to do. I was meant—I’m slowly starting to believe—to craft stories. The woman next to me was meant to paint. Macy, the main character in The Guest Book, was also meant to paint and part of her journey in this book is understanding that, and embracing it anew.

There is something you were meant to do as well. Whatever it is, I probably can’t do it. And that’s ok. I wasn’t meant to. But I can stand back and admire your talent, and cheer you on as you seek to find it.

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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Summer Reading Roundup

Summer is synoymous with F-U-N to me. Which means the books I want in my beach or pool bag must be fun. Maybe delving into deep issues, maybe not. Maybe written by old favorites or maybe by a new, promising talent. Maybe set at the beach, or maybe on the steamy streets of a city I’ve always wanted to visit. Whatever they’re about, whoever they’re by, they need to transport me just the same as if I’d gone on an actual vacation. Below are some books that fit that bill:

The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier. How well do we know our friends? Even our best friends? And what if we lost our best friend, only to discover she kept detailed journals all her life– journals that reveal secrets about her? Would our view of her stay the same? And how would we make peace with the woman we knew and the woman we didn’t? This book answers those questions in a fun summer setting.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth’s journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.

The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.

The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri. A man who may or may not be a selkie? This book and the mystery surrounding it totally tapped into my love of mermaids and all things mysterious about the sea. Add some ruminating on marriage and motherhood and you’ve got a fine literary experience to mix with the sea air and salt water.

Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke’s Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades—not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt’s friend Polly suggests, a selkie—a mythical being of island legend—summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes. This one went in my pool bag as soon as it arrived. It was delicious!

Anita Hughes’ Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman’s journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and life—what it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

The Garden Of Happy Endings by Barbara O’Neal. A woman in a crisis of faith. A community garden that draws people together. A relationship between sisters that features all the nuances of complications you might expect. For those who aren’t into all the beachy kind of books, this one offers a nice alternative– especially if you have a green thumb, or, like me, just wish you had one.

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.

Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore. I read her book The Arrivals last summer poolside. If you didn’t read that one, it’s out in paperback this summer and worth picking up. I’m looking forward to this one and believe Meg Mitchell Moore to be a true talent. This premise appeals to me perhaps even more than The Arrivals!

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents’ ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. Adrift, confused, she is a girl trying to find her way in a world that seems to either neglect or despise her. Her salvation arrives in an unlikely form: Bridget O’Connell, an Irish maid working for a wealthy Boston family. The catch? Bridget lives only in the pages of a dusty old 1920s diary Natalie unearthed in her mother’s basement. But the life she describes is as troubling – and mysterious – as the one Natalie is trying to navigate herself, almost a century later.

I am writing this down because this is my story. There were only ever two people who knew my secret, and both are gone before me.

Who was Bridget, and what became of her?  

Natalie escapes into the diary, eager to unlock its secrets, and reluctantly accepts the help of library archivist Kathleen Lynch, a widow with her own painful secret: she’s estranged from her only daughter. Kathleen sees in Natalie traces of the daughter she has lost, and in Bridget, another spirited young woman at risk.

What could an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? As the troubles of a very modern world close in around them, and Natalie’s torments at school escalate, the faded pages of Bridget’s journal unite the lonely girl and the unhappy widow – and might even change their lives forever.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links. ” This means if you click on the link and purchase the book, She Reads will receive a very small commission. These commissions help us pay for the site and the services we offer.  

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 Magic Trick

At She Reads, we work every day to bring you the magic of reading from the most talented authors out there. We want to take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’d never meet otherwise, and immerse you in situations you’d never get to experience yourself—all by opening the pages of a book.

As a reader, novels have had such power over me. I would put books down and sigh, “I don’t know how that author did that. ” The sigh was part awe, part hopelessness that I would ever be able to do what that author did. But I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to.

So I began to learn the tricks of the trade. How to create characters a reader gets invested in. How to make a setting seem as real as a reader’s own backyard. How to form a love story that resonates with a reader. How to tap into universal themes that echo in a reader’s heart. I have read so many books on writing, created my own little DIY MFA program. And now I know how they do it. But I have to admit that some of the magic got lost in the learning.

When my brother was about ten, he went through a season of being fascinated with magic. He bought books and kits to teach him how to do magic tricks and joined a magic club in our town. I went with him once to that club, most likely because my parents couldn’t find childcare for me so I was drug along. I remember sitting in that room of magicians all sharing their tricks and—while the camaraderie was touching—there was something so un-magical about these magicians spilling their secrets.

I didn’t want to see behind the curtain. I didn’t want to know the magic. I wanted to be dazzled, fooled, taken for a ride.

I read differently now that I’m an author. I’ve turned into a bit of a reading snob now that I know the tricks. I can tell you who’s doing it well and who cut corners. That doesn’t mean I always do it perfectly. That doesn’t mean I’ve reached the ranks of Houdini. Far from it. But it does mean that knowing the magic makes you more aware when the magic is present. Those are the books we share with you here. So that you can be moved, awed, and stirred by story.

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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Summer Reading Roundup – If You Loved THE HELP

Today’s post by She Reads co-founder, Marbeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

The Help is a novel that captured the hearts and imaginations of a nation, the likes of which doesn’t come along often. When the movie came out on video, my husband and I sat our entire family down in front of it and insisted we watch it together. Because we live in the south and we don’t want to raise children who don’t know from whence we came. But The Help isn’t your only option for reading well-written novels that deal with the subjects of racial equality, social justice, and where human emotions fit into it all. Below are some novels you might want to put on your reading radar this summer:

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew. (This one got on my radar because the author’s last name is my maiden name AND we hail from the same city. But we’re no relation, at least not that I know of.) I’ve heard good things about this one.

On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family’s black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there – cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father’s rages and her mother’s benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally. Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents’ failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence…Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us – from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable.

Catfish Alley by Lynne Bryant. A bookseller I respect told me that if this one had come out before The Help, this was the book we’d have all been talking about. I’ll be reading this one soon.

A moving debut novel about female friendship, endurance, and hope in the South.

Roxanne Reeves defines her life by the committees she heads and the social status she cultivates. But she is keeping secrets that make her an outsider in her own town, always in search of acceptance. And when she is given a job none of the other white women want-researching the town’s African-American history for a tour of local sites-she feels she can’t say no.

Elderly Grace Clark, a retired black schoolteacher, reluctantly agrees to become Roxanne’s guide. Grace takes Roxanne to Catfish Alley, whose undistinguished structures are nonetheless sacred places to the black community because of what happened there. As Roxanne listens to Grace’s stories, and meets her friends, she begins to see differently. She is transported back to the past, especially to 1931, when a racist’s hatred for Grace’s brother leads to events that continue to change lives decades later. And as Roxanne gains an appreciation of the dreams, courage, and endurance of those she had so easily dismissed, her own life opens up in new and unexpected ways.

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. An author told me that Beth Hoffman is truly one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. That right there made me buy her book. I’m not kidding. That and I’ve heard that it’s wonderful.

Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore. I heard Susan speak about this book, which she said was inspired by a random introduction at a dinner party. The woman explained that her name was Bezellia, and then went on to explain the history of her name. And Susan knew she had the beginnings of a novel on her hands.

Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove. As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society. That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile.

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove. The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell. But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy. Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret. Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible. For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman. To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members. To her parents, they will never be more than servants.

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers. Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls. And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love. When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her.

Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz. Nicole is a gentle soul, a gifted artist, and a writer who weaves wisdom into her words. This latest offering by her is evidence of all three.

Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship-he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she’s stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn’t through with her yet.

As Ally’s wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there’s more to her story than she’s ever been told, and she’s determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.

Question for you: what Southern novel have you read and enjoyed recently?

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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Summer Reading Roundup: Suspense

Marybeth Whalen

Here’s the truth– I love literary novels and women’s fiction, full of issues and resonant themes and a lot of grappling with stuff. And most of the time, that’s what I’m reading. But sometimes I just want a good old-fashioned, page-turning suspense novel. The best of both worlds (anyone else hear Hannah Montana singing that when you read it?) is when the writing is as strong as the plot. More and more I’m finding suspense writers who have clearly put as much time into the writing as the plot. And that’s when I’m their fan forever. Today I’m pointing you towards some writers who are at the top of their game and have new titles coming out. So if you’re in the mood for a thrill this summer, check these out:

 

 

Game Of Secrets by Dawn Tripp. She had me at Scrabble. For a word lover like me, a game of Scrabble as the way to reveal long-held secrets? Yes, please! Love this premise and can’t wait to dive into this one.

Jane Weld was eleven years old when her father, Luce, disappeared in 1957. His skiff was found drifting near a marsh, empty except for his hunting coat and a box of shotgun shells. No one in their small New England town knew for sure what happened until, three years later, Luce’s skull rolled out of a gravel pit, a bullet hole in the temple. Rumors sprang up that he had been murdered by the jealous husband of his mistress, Ada Varick.

Now, half a century later, Jane is still searching for the truth of her father’s death, a mystery made more urgent by the unexpected romance that her willful daughter, Marne, has struck up with one of Ada’s sons. As the love affair intensifies, Jane and Ada meet for their weekly Friday game of Scrabble, a pastime that soon transforms into a cat-and-mouse game of words long left unspoken, and dark secrets best left untold.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. This book’s point of view is a mother and daughter caught in the place between life and death. What happened to put them there? Who is responsible? And will they come back from the place they’re in, rejoining the family and friends who are waiting for them, pacing hospital corridors and sleeping in chairs? I read and loved  Sister by Rosamund Lupton,  but I have to say I liked this one even better. This was one I devoured in a single day because I just had to know.

The school is on fire. Her children are inside.

Grace runs toward the burning building, desperate to reach them.

In the aftermath of the devastating fire which tears her family apart, Grace embarks on a mission to find the person responsible and protect her children from further harm. This fire was not an accident, and her daughter Jenny may still be in grave danger. Grace is the only one who can discover the culprit, and she will do whatever it takes to save her family and find out who committed the crime that rocked their lives. While unearthing truths about her life that may help her find answers, Grace learns more about everyone around her — and finds she has courage she never knew she possessed.

Powerful and beautiful, with a riveting story and Lupton’s trademark elegant style that made Sister such a sweeping success, Afterwards explores the depths of a mother’s unswerving love.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. My cousin, who is an Assistant District Attorney and a voracious reader, raves about Gillian Flynn’s books. I’ve not read her yet, but Gone Girl is one I’m anxiously awaiting. The premise sounds wonderful and I’m excited to have my first experience with Gillian Flynn. It’s true that you never forget your first.

Marriage can be a real killer. 
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction. ” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn. 
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin. I for one want to know how the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana all fit into this character’s past.

The letter that turns Tommie McCloud’s world upside down arrives from a stranger only days after her father’s death. The woman who wrote it claims that Tommie is her daughter—and that she was kidnapped as a baby thirty-one years ago.

Tommie wants to believe it’s all a hoax, but suddenly a girl who grew up on a Texas ranch finds herself linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. Tommie races along a twisting, nightmarish path while an unseen stalker is determined to keep old secrets locked inside the dementia-battered brain of the woman who Tommie always thought was her real mother. With everything she has ever believed in question, and no one she can trust, Tommie must discover the truth about the girl who vanished—and the very real threats that still remain.

More Titles I’ve Got On My Radar:

What Happened To My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

The Other Woman’s House by Sophie Hannah

Heartbroken by Lisa Unger

Question for you: read any good suspense novels lately? Do tell!

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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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Review – The Song Remains the Same

I enjoyed The Song Remains The Same by Allison Winn Scotch  because of the story and the writing and the compelling beginning– a woman wakes up with no memory of who she is, or her mom, or her husband. And very quickly it becomes apparent that all is not well with this happy little reunion. The one bright spot for her is the movie star who was the only other survivor of the plane crash– someone who suddenly becomes more important than the people she calls family because he went through what she went through. And even better, he remembers what she cannot.While I enjoyed the book for those reasons, I also enjoyed it for something else– the idea that we can change who we are. Or should I say, the  hope  that we can change who we are, even as set-in-our-ways adults. As Nell adjusts to the fact that she’s lost who she was, she discovers that, in losing who she was, she’s gained the chance to change her personality– and maybe  even her destiny.

As the book goes on, she learns some things about her past that she doesn’t like. Things about her father, her husband, her mom and sister. As she comes to terms with who these people were to her, she must also decide who she wants them to be in the future. I found this story to be a great way to delve into such weighty topics, yet keep us rooting for Nell all the way through.

The only thing negative that I would say about the book  is that there were too many times of  taking God’s name in vain. I can put up with most any swear word. But take His name in vain and the fur on the back of my neck stands up. So I would caution you if that is something that bothers you. I won’t lie, it bothered me. But I did finish the book because I wanted to find out the truth about Nell– and whether it’s possible to really change who you are.

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.

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.

read more

Love in the Time of War

I first became aware of the potential for love stories within World War II as a teenager watching the show “thirtysomething.” The season premiere for the second season revolved around one of the characters finding an old trunk full of letters and photos dating back to the war. The character got sucked into the love story between a young woman and the man she loved, who was fighting overseas. The main character felt a kinship with the woman who wrote the letters and the struggles she was facing, in spite of the  fact that they were separated by decades. After that show, I was hooked by the music, the drama, and the romance of that time period in our country’s history.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. At She Reads we’ve read several titles that deal with this time period– each with their own unique take on the war. Think World War II has been done? Not like these novels!

The Discovery by Dan Walsh

Gerard Warner was not only a literary giant whose suspense novels sold in the millions, he was also a man devoted to his family, especially his wife of nearly 60 years. When he dies he leaves his Charleston estate to his grandson, Michael, an aspiring writer himself. Michael settles in to write his own first novel and discovers an unpublished manuscript his grandfather had written, something he’d kept hidden from everyone but clearly intended Michael to find. Michael begins to read an exciting tale about Nazi spies and sabotage, but something about this story is different from all of Gerard Warner’s other books. It’s actually a love story.

As Michael delves deeper into the story he discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well. Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to forge the love of a lifetime. Author Dan Walsh delivers yet another unique and heartfelt story that will stick with readers long after they turn the last page.

WHAT WE LIKED: As novelists we love the idea of a writer leaving a manuscript for his grandson meant to tell a story he couldn’t tell while he was alive– a story that’s unlike anything he’s ever told.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

In the summer of 1942, newly engaged Anne Calloway sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.

WHAT WE LIKED: We loved Sarah Jio’s debut novel The Violets of March, and she’s back with a story of love and loss set in the Pacific. Romance on a tropical island in a bungalow hideaway? Yes, please!

Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss–an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

WHAT WE LIKED: This novel focuses on the lives affected by the Japanese interment during the tumultuous time after Pearl Harbor from the viewpoint of those who lived it. McMorris tells a side of the story that we rarely hear about.

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.

Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.

WHAT WE LIKED: This novel tells the story of a German woman forced to be part of Hitler’s plan to create a master race, giving us  a harrowing look at what life was like as the Nazis grew in power while tying this woman’s story to a contemporary woman facing challenges of her own.

Next To Loveby Ellen Feldman

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

WHAT WE LIKED: This author gives us an original take on the war by giving us a glimpse at how the war shaped the perspective  of three women, their family members, and a nation.

If you’re fascinated with this time period, consider picking up one or all of these novels and immersing yourself in the romance, the drama, the history that is WWII.

Have you read any novels set during WWII that captured your heart?

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 Review – These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen

Renee, Abby and Cate have found themselves sharing an apartment in New York. While Cate and Renee both work for the ultra-hip magazine Gloss, Abby has only just arrived in New York after fleeing a troubled past. For Cate, a recent promotion to Features Editor at Gloss brings newfound power struggles with tetchy journalists and a boss who seems to want more from her than she’s willing to give. Renee is vying for a position as Fashion Editor and has only recently found out the lengths that she must go to in order to obtain this most coveted job, while Abby has left behind a little girl she has grown to love when her job as a nanny began to creep into dangerous territory. All three women have unrealized goals behind and enormous struggles ahead. Through their various trials and heartbreaks, they will come to discover that the one thing more important than their careers and self-image is the friendship that they have tenuously begun to build. As they navigate office treachery, self esteem issues, and secrets that have been long buried and forgotten, they realize that it’s impossible for them to go it alone. As their friendships grow and solidify, each woman comes to grasp the beauty of their individuality and the power and strength that lies deep within themselves. In this endearing and bracingly touching novel, Sarah Pekkanen explores the hidden depths of three women trying to make a new life for themselves and the beautiful bonds that hold them together.

I’ve long wanted to explore the writing of Sarah Pekkanen, and each time I read another rave review of one of her books, I mentally note that almost everyone I know finds her work to be smart, engaging and touching. Reading this book was an addictive experience. I couldn’t put it down and became grumbly and ill-tempered when I had to let it linger, even for a moment. Pekennan writes characters that are instantly relatable and puts her readers squarely in their camp, rooting for them even when the odds are stacked against them. These three women are the kind of characters that instantly clicked with me, and I was firmly entrenched in discovering as much about them as I possibly could.

Cate is your typical go-getter. Though she’s smart, capable and winsome, she must always present a strong and forward thinking presence because there are many obstacles in her way. As a competent woman, Cate struggles with having to push the limits because, at times, it seems that people don’t respect her. Cate, while being at the top of her game, is hiding a secret that may undo her, and she has a lot to prove to those naysayers who long to topple her. Though she’s strong and intelligent, she knows when to ask for help and when to remain steadfast. Ultimately, Kate struggles because she’s unable to trust, and when she finally begins to let Abby and Renee into her life, she begins to realize that her lack of intimacy with others may be preventing her from truly having it all.

Sarah Pekkanen

Renee, on the other hand, is a softer force and often deflects her self-esteem issues with humor. While Renee isn’t overweight, she struggles with weight issues and body shame that sets her on a dangerous path. Like Cate, Renee desperately wants to prove herself but feels that her weight is a significant factor in her unhappiness. I felt that I could somewhat relate to Renee and her thought processes, and when an unexpected family crisis looms on the horizon, her problems are compounded. As Renee works harder and harder to obtain her goals, they all seem to slip away one by one. It’s easy enough for her to laugh on the outside, but on the inside, Renee is slowly falling apart.

Abby is an instinctual caregiver who has lost direction and focus after finding herself morally and ethically compromised. When she arrives in New York to share an apartment with Cate and Renee, she is dispirited and brokenhearted. She’s not only eaten away by guilt and regret, but suffers from severe bouts of panic that she can’t understand. As Cate and Renee work together to help mentally bouey Abby, the three discover they share an affinity for each other and they all begin to lean on each other and provide each other with the compassion that they so desperately need. Abby is the catalyst for many of the emotional bonds that form between the women, and despite her need she is once again able to find the nurturing parts of herself to give to the other two women.

If you enjoy books that highlight the amazing resiliency of women’s friendships, this is definitely the book for you. It’s gentle without being sugar coated, and Pekkanen has a way of making her story extremely relevant for women of all ages. I also appreciated the fact that the writing was crisp and bracing and that the plot was extremely tight. I’ve already ordered my next novel by Pekkanen and am looking forward to digging in very soon. A great read. Highly recommended.

This review written, and reprinted, courtesy of Heather Figearo.

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.

read more

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