What We Were Into: July 2017 Edition

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

Besides trying to 1) stay cool and 2) actually enjoy our children instead of fussing at them every time they ransacked the kitchen (I mean really, they’re like a swarm of locusts) we were obsessed with several things in July.

First and foremost we’ve been way into our event that is coming up September 17th in New Orleans.

#ReadNOLA is daylong reader’s getaway including a moveable feast luncheon, afternoon panels, and a keynote conversation between Christina Baker Kline AND Joshilyn Jackson. The good news? Registration is now officially open! Tickets are $55 and cover all activities (including lunch) from 12:00 – 6:00. Click here to purchase your tickets and to see other confirmed authors.

We were also both into this purse. The friends that buy purses together stay best friends forever. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Marybeth got it in the cognac and Ariel got it in the olive. If (when?? yes??) you see us at #ReadNOLA please compliment us on our taste in purses! And if you are nosy (we prefer calling it curious) like us, you can check out this video, which started it all. What is it about women that we really do want to see what’s in each other’s bags?

We also did do some stuff on our own (because obviously, we live 400 miles apart). Here are a few things we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks. We’re not being paid to promote any of them. We just thought you might like them too.

Marybeth was into:

The podcast Up and Vanished. This podcast is not only riveting, it is one where, through their investigative efforts, they actually solve a cold case that is 11 years old. Since the novel I’m working on is about a missing person, I counted the hours and hours of bingeing as research, and didn’t feel bad about neglecting my life to listen one single bit. (Not much, anyway.)

I’ve also listened to a few episodes of– and really enjoyed– the podcast Book Tour With John Grisham. He comes across as genuine, self deprecating, and funny– all while being a mega-bestselling author. And he’s had some great guests with him. If you’re a writer, or a reader, which if you’re here we’re betting you are this is worth the listen. Especially if you, like me, ever find yourself in the kitchen cooking a bunch of meals to freeze in preparation for your family vacation. (Work alllll day so you can take time off from cooking. This is my approach to vacation. Surely someone else follows that logic, right?)

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve was the best book I read this month. The other ones I read were… ok. So I won’t mention them here. But this one had me rooting and cheering for the main character until the last sentence. And oh, what a last sentence it was!

The Zookeeper’s Wife was the best movie I watched this month. I loved this heroic story of people who put their lives at risk to save others. And the fact that it’s based on a true story only makes it better and more inspiring! It really got me thinking? Would I be that brave? Would I love others enough to put my life– and the lives of my family– on the line?

My husband and I are also continuing with the third season of Grantchester. If you love British dramas, this show– which I would call a cozy mystery in film form– is so, so good.

Ariel was into:

This mattress topper. My husband and I bought a new memory foam mattress about a year ago. It was really nice and really expensive but it was also really firm. Like sleeping on the sidewalk firm. Bizarre for memory foam to tell the truth. But all the reviews said it softened up over time. So we gave it time. Then more time. And then a bit more. When I finally complained that sleeping in the bathtub would be more comfortable so my husband bought this topper (on a recommendation from a friend–which is always the best kind of recommendation). I can’t even explain how much we love it. We’ve gone to bed an hour early every night since it arrived. We don’t toss and turn. We don’t wake up in the middle of the night. Heck, I don’t even think we roll over anymore. Hello eight-plus hours of sleep every night!

RoC Skincare Products. I am notorious for buying cheap face lotion and then regretting it. Do that often enough and it’s not cheap anymore. So, on a recent pass through the drugstore, I upgraded to RoC night cream on a whim. It was less than $20 and much to my surprise, it worked. So I bought the day cream. Then the eye cream. Then the serum. The products work even better together and I love them. Yes, I know I sound like a commercial. But I’ve never actually used anything on my face that does get rid of fine lines and wrinkles before. I’m just…stunned.

My first Stephen King novel in twenty-two years. I finally bought a hardcover copy of 11/22/63 and now I remember why I spent five years in my teens reading everything of his I could get my hands on. The man is a genius. He’s the master. All hail the King!

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#READ New Orleans Registration Is Live!

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

It’s official! We can finally announce that our #READ event is happening again and this year it’s in beloved, historic New Orleans.

We cordially invite you to #ReadNOLA!

This event has become the thing Marybeth and I most look forward to all year. And while it’s a tremendous amount of work, the reason we come back year after year is that it gives us the opportunity to see all of you in person. This reading community is such a big part of our lives and we’ll take any opportunity we have to gather and talk books with you. We loved meeting you in Raleigh in 2015, and in Savannah last year, and it is our great hope that we will get to meet even more of you in New Orleans this September.

This year we are proud to feature not one, but two New York Times bestselling authors: Christina Baker Kline and Joshilyn Jackson. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our third year than to end our day with two critically acclaimed writers. Believe me, this is a conversation you don’t want to miss. In the coming days we’ll be announcing many other fantastic authors but we’ve had so many people contact us asking about the event that we wanted to open registration as soon as possible.

And, we are delighted to say, that registration is now officially open! Tickets are $55 and include lunch, afternoon panels, and our keynote conversation with Christina and Joshilyn. Click here to purchase your tickets and to see other confirmed authors.

#ReadNOLA will take place at the The Sheraton New Orleans from noon until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday September 17th. We recommend that those of you coming in from out of town reserve your hotel room as soon as possible. The #READ event is held in conjunction with the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance yearly trade show and the hotel is always fully booked. It’s impossible to get rooms at the last minute so grab yours while they’re available.

As if a day spent talking books with your closest reading friends and over a dozen fabulous authors was not enough, here’s what else you can do if you choose to spend the weekend with us in New Orleans.

We are counting down the days to #ReadNOLA and we truly hope to see you there!

Come read with us?

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The Almost Sisters: Joshilyn Jackson Interview

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

We are delighted to have our very own Marybeth Whalen in conversation with New York Times bestselling author, Joshilyn Jackson today. Joshilyn’s new novel, THE ALMOST SISTERS, is one of our summer book club selections and, we believe, her best novel yet. So grab that second cup of coffee and get comfy.

Marybeth: What was the spark that ignited this book for you?

Joshilyn: History—my own, and the South’s. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about ideas and issues that came out of my mother’s side of the family. Those folks are straight out of a Flannery O’Connor short story: sharecroppers, A Baptist preacher who was flat in love with Hell, snake handlers, North Alabama mountain folk, Lampers…It was a rich trove.

This was the first book in which I spent time thinking about the other side of my family. On the Jackson side, my grandfather came from a large slave holding family out of Mississippi. That was never comfortable—it still isn’t. Meanwhile, my grandmother came from slaves. These two people loved each other beautifully for more than 60 years—this is the book that grew out of that love, becoming a family story that contains a murder mystery with roots that go all the way back to the Civil War; I do believe our past stays alive inside the present. History breathes.

If you want to read about my grandparents and their marriage, I just wrote a huge essay about it for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Marybeth: There is a story within the story in this novel. Which story was the easier one to tell– Leia’s or Violet’s?

Joshilyn: To me, they are the same story. I love story within a story structure, and I wanted the comic book to act as a fairy-tale—-for the images and themes to echo and light up Leia’s journey. As a female artist, it was also a way for me to explore my own process. The way Leia’s art influences her life choices—the way she finds her answers in the art—that’s very true for me. I write my way to a better understanding of how the world works and the space I want to occupy inside it very much in the way she draws her way to clarity.

Also, I am a HUGE nerd, so it was fun hiding little Buffy and Dr. Who references for fellow nerds! It’s a small piece of the book, but my fellow nerds and my more literary readers have been writing me letters about it—they enjoyed these small parts best for very different reasons, which I find SO interesting. A few of my more commercially-inclined, non-nerd readers felt impatient with those sections, but most said they just skimmed those bits and moved on to the larger story. You don’t have to like literary fiction or comic books to like this book. I write between genres—I love commercial fiction, and you see that in the kind of twisty plots I like, but I also love literary fiction, so I do a lot to support theme via imagery; I wish I had a vin diagram of overlapping kinds of readers for this book!

Marybeth: Are comic books an interest you already had, or one you developed as you wrote this novel? How much research about the world of comic books and illustrators did you have to do?

Joshilyn: Not a lot. I married the kind of guy who keeps his comic books in plastic sleeves, and my brother is an Ultra-Nerd, who, like Leia, is a rock star at the cons. He is a sculptor who makes his living off of gaming figurines, sculpting miniatures that nerds collect, game with, paint, and love. So it is a world I visit often. I maybe even own a small vacation house there…

(if you want to show one of my brother’s sculptures, here are some images – the GATE KEPPER and fairy hunter both are spectacular.)

Marybeth: A lot people are saying this book is your best yet. Why do you think this one is so special?

Joshilyn: I don’t know, but I love that I keep hearing this and seeing it in reviews. As a writer, that’s the hope—that you keep growing, getting better. Part of it is Leia—I just like her so much. She is flawed and peppery and funny, and I would love to be best friends with her. Many readers say they feel the same. Also, maybe the book connects with readers because, for me, writing it was very, very uncomfortable. I had to really look honestly at my own flaws and failings, and the flaws and failings of this land I love. I wanted to be realistic about the South, and yet not stop loving it. I think people respond to that kind of emotional honesty? I hope so. I know I do, as a reader. And this relates to your next question.

Marybeth: As an author, why was it important to talk about racial perceptions through this story?

Joshilyn: Because it does make me uncomfortable. As a middle class, educated, white person, I have to work to not get defensive in conversations about race. But if I get defensive, then I am making a large, systemic problem tiny and personal. I can’t respond by putting my hand on my heart and say, But I’m not racist! It’s not about me.

So… Instead I try to tell stories where people are allowed to be imperfect and still worth loving, always able to grow. I am SO tired of nihilism and despair. I am hungry for stories about good people with real struggles and challenges trying to do the right thing in a broken world. Maybe this will read as naïve to some, but I disagree. I am not saying that hugging a puppy will fix America—I am just saying it makes that one, single puppy have a better moment, and that this matters. I believe this broken world is still a place even the smallest kindnesses matter—and so I wrote a book where love ripples out in small, imperfect, hopeful ways.

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Summer Book Club Feature: The Almost Sisters

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

THE ALMOST SISTERS, by Joshilyn Jackson, is one of our summer book club selections. It releases tomorrow and if you were on the fence about picking up your copy, we think this book trailer and Joshilyn’s moving essay on privilege, second chances, and racial identity will convince you. It might be the best thing you read all day.

**email readers can see the video by clicking here.

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Summer Book Club Selections

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

The signs of summer are upon us. The weather is warm and the air is heavy with the scent of chlorine and sun screen. My (Ariel) house is filled with children again and there are piles of shoes by the front door. We haven’t used our alarm clocks in almost two weeks. The grocery stores are stocked with strawberries and watermelons and crates of cheap popsicles. And–most importantly–the neighborhood pool is finally open!

I’m not sure about you, but this particular winter and spring were rather grueling for Marybeth and me. We both had ferocious deadlines (good news, though, we both have new novels coming soon!). I had pneumonia. She traveled a lot. My boys had an intense baseball season (80+ games in two months). And then, of course, came the end of school activities. Tests. Award ceremonies. Band concerts. Choir concerts. Class parties. Parades. Teacher meetings. It’s enough to snap any woman in half. And while I’ve crossed the finish line, Marybeth still has a short way to go before her summer officially begins. One thing I can tell you for sure, however, we’re both ready to stop and relax. We are ready to spend our days reading once again.

Which is why we’re so excited to announce our summer book club selections today! We spent a lot of time reading this spring, looking for three captivating, unputdownable books to recommend this summer. And we were not disappointed! All three of our selections come from established, beloved authors. All three of them are perfect poolside reads. All three of them will take you somewhere new–literally and emotionally. So swing by your local Indie bookseller and add one of them (or even better, all three!) to your beach bag. And don’t forget to stop by here throughout the summer as well. We’ll be visiting with each of these authors between now and August.

Happy Reading!

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THE BOOK OF SUMMER by Michelle Gable

From the New York Times Bestselling Author of A Paris Apartment

The ocean, the wild roses on the dunes and the stunning Cliff House, perched atop a bluff in Sconset, Nantucket. Inside the faded pages of the Cliff House guest book live the spellbinding stories of its female inhabitants: from Ruby, a bright-eyed newlywed on the eve of World War II to her granddaughter Bess, who returns to the beautiful summer estate.

For the first time in four years, physician Bess Codman visits the compound her great-grandparents built almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Bess must now put aside her complicated memories in order to pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave. It’s not just memories of her family home Bess must face though, but also an old love that might hold new possibilities.

In the midst of packing Bess rediscovers the forgotten family guest book. Bess’s grandmother and primary keeper of the book, Ruby, always said Cliff House was a house of women, and by the very last day of the very last summer at Cliff House, Bess will understand the truth of her grandmother’s words in ways she never imagined.

**Read an excerpt of THE BOOK OF SUMMER here.

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BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

**Read an excerpt of BEFORE WE WERE YOURS here.
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THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

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