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

We are delighted to announce our latest “not to be missed” book club selection is THE SALT HOUSE by Lisa Duffy. We think this is the perfect novel to end summer with. A family drama that delves into loss and grief, while weaving in hope and joy in such a balanced and inspiring way–with a coastal setting at the same time (last little bit of summer!). This is the kind of novel you’ll want to have your book club read, or give a copy to a friend just so you’ll have someone to discuss it with. It’s the sort of book that finds you on the porch swing with a cup of coffee or on the patio with a glass of wine. You savor it.

And at the end? We think you’ll want to hug the novel to you, just so you can hold the Kelly family close for a moment longer… like we may have done ourselves. Enjoy your time with the Kellys. We certainly did!

Throughout the next month (Aug.15-Sept.15) you’re going to be hearing from the author, Lisa Duffy and you’ll also be seeing her gorgeous debut novel shared by our wonderful and amazing social media and blog network members. (Want to see who they are? Click here.)

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In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

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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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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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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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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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