Archive | Marybeth Whalen

Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Marybeth Whalen

Update: We’re delighted to announce that the winner of this giveaway is ANN ELLISON. She has been notified via email. Thanks to all who entered and don’t forget to come back soon. We have a number of giveaways lined up for the future.  

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Marybeth Whalen

My new book has many of the elements I love to see in a novel– the beach, a wedding, and baked goods. I didn’t set out for those elements to be in the book, they just emerged as I thought through what this novel would look like. In some ways I feel that my stories are already there, in their entirety, long before I start thinking about them. I just have to wait for them to reveal themselves, piece by piece.

Once I knew that a bakery was going to be part of this novel, I had to do the best kind of research. I contacted the real Seaside Bakery at Sunset Beach, NC where the book is set (the owner so graciously allowed me to name my fictional bakery the same name) and asked the owner, Carolyn, if she’d mind if I dropped by. She did me one better– inviting me and my family to come to her bakery for a full wedding cake tasting like she puts on for brides. That experience– tasting all the yummy cake, filling and frosting flavor combinations to our hearts’ content– became a scene in the novel. And an experience our family will never forget.

My children, incidentally, think a bakery should be part of every book I ever write, from now on.

The Seaside Bakery in my book is not the real Seaside Bakery– it is a combination of the bakery I visited at Sunset Beach and the bakery I visited near my home, incorporating the unique things each place offered and creating a place that was truly fictional. The owner of the bakery in my book, the main character Ivy’s Aunt Leah, is nothing like the two bakery owners who opened their doors to me. Except for the fact that all three women love bringing smiles to people’s face through the magic of flour, sugar, butter all working together to create something sweet. In some ways, I am like these women. I hope that the magic of character, setting, and story work together to  add a little sweetness  to your summer in my book, The Wishing Tree.

* * *

Savvy, determined Ivy Marshall discovers that her husband has cheated on her on the very same day her sister’s perfect boyfriend proposes on national television. When Ivy’s mother asks her to return to her family’s beach home to plan her sister’s upcoming wedding, she decides to use the excuse to escape from the pain of her broken heart. When her return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, brings Ivy face to face with her former fiance, old feelings are rekindled and she wonders if there is a future for them. However, when Ivy refuses to talk to her husband, he resorts to tweeting to her, expressing his remorse and making it clear he doesn’t want to give up on their marriage. As she helps prepare the wishing tree for her sister’s wedding, she must examine her dreams for her own future and what true love should be.

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“The Bigs” Reading Roundup

Today’s post by our co-founder, Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Every summer I expect to have a new book from the authors I think of as “The Bigs,” and I’m not referring to their size. I’m thinking of their reputation, their standings on the various bestseller lists, and their talent. I thought I’d share what I’m looking forward to  from “The Bigs” this summer.

The First Affair by  Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Following college, Jamie McAllister wins a prestigious internship at the White House that she has no idea will irrevocably alter her life. An unexpected flirtation with the handsome and charismatic Gregory Rutland quickly leads to an emotional relationship she is ill equipped to handle at twenty-two. Each time she tries to extricate herself Greg is unable to find the strength to let her go. Meanwhile, the opposing party mobilizes to annihilate his presidency by any means necessary.

As Greg’s conflicting desires drive her to the breaking point, Jamie can’t help but reveal intimate details to those closest to her. But she must have unburdened herself to the wrong person—because within a matter of weeks Jamie finds herself, and everyone she loves, facing highly calculated destruction at the hands of Greg’s political enemies.

With her every mistake dragged out for the world to judge, Jamie has to endure an unprecedented trial in the court of public opinion—with the fate of the President, his party, and the country at stake.

Now, years later, can the woman infamously known as the “girl in the blue dress ” make sense of this affair, and the trauma it wrought, for the world—and for herself?

Family Pictures by Jane Green

From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes Family Pictures, the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

Fly Away  by Kristin Hannah

Tully Hart has always been larger than life, a woman fueled by big dreams and driven by memories of a painful past. She thinks she can overcome anything until her best friend, Kate Ryan, dies. Tully tries to fulfill her deathbed promise to Kate—to be there for Kate’s children—but Tully knows nothing about family or motherhood or taking care of people.

Sixteen-year-old Marah Ryan is devastated by her mother’s death. Her father, Johnny, strives to hold the family together, but even with his best efforts, Marah becomes unreachable in her grief. Nothing and no one seems to matter to her . . . until she falls in love with a young man who makes her smile again and leads her into his dangerous, shadowy world.

Dorothy Hart—the woman who once called herself Cloud—is at the center of Tully’s tragic past. She repeatedly abandoned her daughter, Tully, as a child, but now she comes back, drawn to her daughter’s side at a time when Tully is most alone. At long last, Dorothy must face her darkest fear: Only by revealing the ugly secrets of her past can she hope to become the mother her daughter needs.

A single, tragic choice and a middle-of-the-night phone call will bring these women together and set them on a poignant, powerful journey of redemption. Each has lost her way, and they will need each one another—and maybe a miracle—to transform their lives.

An emotionally complex, heart-wrenching novel about love, motherhood, loss, and new beginnings, Fly Away reminds us that where there is life, there is hope, and where there is love, there is forgiveness. Told with her trademark powerful storytelling and illuminating prose, Kristin Hannah reveals why she is one of the most beloved writers of our day.

Ladies’ Night by Mary Kay Andrews

Grace Stanton’s life as a rising media star and beloved lifestyle blogger takes a surprising turn when she catches her husband cheating and torpedoes his pricey sports car straight into the family swimming pool. Grace suddenly finds herself locked out of her palatial home, checking account, and even the blog she has worked so hard to develop in her signature style. Moving in with her widowed mother, who owns and lives above a rundown beach bar called The Sandbox, is less than ideal. So is attending court-mandated weekly “divorce recovery” therapy sessions with three other women and one man for whom betrayal seems to be the only commonality. When their “divorce coach ” starts to act suspiciously, they decide to start having their own Wednesday “Ladies’ Night” sessions at The Sandbox, and the unanticipated bonds that develop lead the members of the group to try and find closure in ways they never imagined. Can Grace figure out a new way home and discover how strong she needs to be to get there?

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

An all-expense-paid week at a luxury villa in Jamaica—it’s the invitation of a lifetime for a group of old college friends. All four women are desperate not just for a reunion, but for an escape: Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie is shattered by the news that a genetic illness runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And, finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her wealthy husband an unforgettable thirty-fifth birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks already splitting apart their new marriage.

Languid hours on a private beach, gourmet dinners, and late nights of drinking kick off an idyllic week for the women and their husbands. But as a powerful hurricane bears down on the island, turmoil swirls inside the villa, forcing each of the women to reevaluate everything she knows about her friends—and herself.

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Foodie Fiction Roundup

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

At our house the Food Network is a popular viewing choice. Whether my daughter is watching people battle over cupcakes or we’re all gathering to watch  a DVR’ed episode of Pioneer Woman, we are clearly a family who finds food entertaining. And I know we’re not alone. Food tv, food magazines, the abundance of Pinterest pins devoted to food, and even foodie fiction allow us all to immerse ourselves in our love for food, wonderful food.  Today at She Reads, we  thought we’d share a little roundup of some recent novels that revolve around characters who are somehow culinarily connected.

When In Doubt, Add Butter  by Beth Harbison

From the New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Always Something There to Remind Me, When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison a delicious new novel about the search for true love and all the ingredients that go into it.

As far as Gemma is concerned, her days of dating are over. In fact, it’s her job to cater other peoples’ dates, and that’s just fine by her. At thirty-seven, she has her own business, working as a private chef, and her life feels full and secure. She’s got six steady clients that keep her hands full.

There’s Lex, the fussy but fabulous department store owner who loves Oysters Rockefeller and 1950s comfort food; Willa, who needs to lose weight under doctor’s orders but still believes butter makes everything better; a colorful family who may or may not be part of the Russian mob; an überwealthy Georgetown family; the picture-perfect Van Houghtens, whose matriarch is “allergic to everything “; and finally, a man she calls “Mr. Tuesday, ” whom she has never met but who she is strangely drawn to.

For Gemma, cooking is predictable. Recipes are certain. Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success. Life, on the other hand, is full of variables. So when Gemma’s takes an unexpected turn on a road she always thought was straight and narrow, she must face her past and move on in ways she never would have imagined. Because sometimes in life, all you need is a little hope, a lot of courage, and—oh yes—butter.

How To Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clairs’ housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls oblivious to class differences could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death, and a painful secret jeopardizes Julia’s engagement to the man she loves. A chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, but when a mysterious saboteur opens up old wounds, they must finally face the truth about their past or risk losing everything.

Off The Menu by Stacey Ballis

As the executive culinary assistant to celebrity Chicago chef Patrick Conlon, Alana Ostermann works behind the scenes—and that’s just the way she likes it. But with developing recipes for Patrick’s cookbooks, training his sous chefs, picking out the perfect birthday gifts for his ex-mother-in-law, and dealing with the fallout from his romantic escapades, she barely has a personal life, much less time to spend with her combo platter of a mutt, Dumpling.

Then a fluke online connection brings her RJ, a transplant from Tennessee, who adds some Southern spice to her life. Suddenly Alana’s priorities shift, and Patrick—and Dumpling—find themselves facing a rival for her time and affection. With RJ in the mix, and some serious decisions to make about her personal and professional future, Alana must discover the perfect balance of work and play, money and meaning, to bring it all to the table—one delicious dish at a time…

How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis

In the tradition of Emily Giffin and Marisa de los Santos, How Lucky You Are is an engaging and moving novel about three women struggling to keep their longstanding friendship alive. Waverly, who’s always been the group’s anchor, runs a cozy bakery but worries each month about her mounting debt. Kate is married to a man who’s on track to be the next governor of Virginia, but the larger questions brewing in their future are unsettling her. Stay-at-home mom Amy has a perfect life on paper, but as the horrific secret she’s keeping from her friends threatens to reveal itself, she panics.

As life’s pressures build all around them, Waverly knows she has some big decisions to make. In doing so, she will discover that the lines between loyalty and betrayal can become blurred, happy endings aren’t always clear-cut, and sometimes you have to risk everything to gain the life you deserve.

The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel

At thirty-six , Hope McKenna-Smith is no stranger to bad news. She lost her mother to cancer, her husband left her for a twenty-two year old, and her bank account is nearly depleted. Her own dreams of becoming a lawyer long gone, she’s running a failing family bakery on Cape Cod and raising a troubled preteen.

Now, Hope’s beloved French-born grandmother Mamie, who wowed the Cape with her fabulous pastries for more than fifty years, is drifting away into a haze of Alzheimer’s. But in a rare moment of clarity, Mamie realizes that unless she tells Hope about the past, the secrets she has held on to for so many years will soon be lost forever. Tantalizingly, she reveals mysterious snippets of a tragic history in Paris. And then, arming her with a scrawled list of names, she sends Hope to France to uncover a seventy-year-old mystery.

Hope’s emotional journey takes her through the bakeries of Paris and three religious traditions, all guided by Mamie’s fairy tales and the sweet tastes of home. As Hope pieces together her family’s history, she finds horrific Holocaust stories mixed with powerful testimonies of her family’s will to survive in a world gone mad. And to reunite two lovers torn apart by terror, all she’ll need is a dash of courage, and the belief that God exists everywhere, even in cake. . . .

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A Moment With Our Founders

Today’s post from our co-founders, Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon

There’s only so much you can know about a girl by her preference in books so we decided to crack the door a bit and give you a glimpse into our personal lives and peculiar oddities. It’s a toss-up whether you’ll be entertained or scared away.

Marybeth Whalen

What’s going on at your house: I’m in denial about those back to school commercials on tv and school supplies taking centerstage at the local Target. Summer is my favorite season and I really hate to think of it ending for another year. In the meantime, we’ve got another few weeks of days in the sun at the pool, sleeping in, and the slower pace of summer that I love. And I intend to savor every moment. We’ve got our 21st anniversary and two of our kids’ birthdays this month. So it will be a little busy.

What’s the last song you bought on iTunes: “Come Over” by Kenny Chesney. None of my children can believe that I actually bought a country song voluntarily. I’ve actually bought two this summer. I also bought “Springsteen” by Eric Church. I blame it on the fact that our good ole southern neighborhood pool blasts country music over the loud speakers so I’ve been forced to reckon with it. And admit that there are some songs (very few) that I actually like.

One lame fact about you: I can’t sleep unless I have perfect hospital corners on my bed.

Any weird food preferences or aversions: I have been known to dip my dill pickle in ketchup. Sweet and sour– what’s not to like? And also, I don’t eat cheese. Of any kind.

Bad habits: Launching spit bubbles off my tongue. It might impress (and simultaneously horrify) my kids, but it doesn’t exactly go over well in public.

My four swim team swimmers celebrating their championship season

Ariel Lawhon

What’s going on at your house: We just got back from the beach (a million thanks to my in-laws who rented a house and invited our crew to join them!) and we’re getting ready to move back to Tennessee. What this means is that in addition to all the normal activities starting up again (school, swim team, etc.) we will have to put our house on the market, pack, and move across country. We’re so ready to live close to family again but lugging four children, all of our worldly belongings, and a shedding dog over eight hundred miles in one day isn’t exactly my idea of fun.

What’s the last song you bought on iTunes: “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. (Maybe I needed a compliment that day. Who knows.)

One lame fact about you: I end every workout with “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Yep, I’m an 80’s child through and through.

Any weird food preferences or aversions: I could drink balsamic vinegar straight from the bottle.

Bad habits: I eat ice. So bad for the teeth!

The men in my life, picture ready and in love with the beach.

Your turn! Answer any of the above questions and let us know a bit about you!

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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.

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The Guest Book Soundtrack

Today’s post by our very own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Marybeth Whalen

One of the things I most love to read about when I read about authors’ work is the music that inspired or sustained them as they wrote. So far in my writing, each of my books has gained a theme song along the way—a song that I listened to often to help me get into the spirit of the story. In fact, that’s one of my benchmark moments in my writing process: when I realize I have a theme song for the novel.

For anyone who knows me, you already know of my sincere and devoted love of 80’s music. So when I’m writing I’m usually listening to at least some 80’s music. And my 80’s taste tends towards the lesser-known songs. None of that overplayed pop music for me. I like the songs no one remembers.

One band that I listened to all through the 80’s was Icehouse, an Australian band I discovered as a teenager in a music store in 1985. In 1988 Icehouse had their biggest commercial US success with a song called Electric Blue, a single from the album Man Of Colours. It was the title track from that album that became the theme song of The Guest Book. A few lines from the lyrics served as the epigraph for the book:

He says I keep my life in this paintbox
I keep your face in this picture frame
When I speak to this faded canvas, it tells me
We have no need for words anyway.

So here is the video of Man Of Colours, a song that tells a story itself. A bit of trivia before you watch it: The old man in the video is the lead singer of Icehouse, Iva Davies’, father, a fact that makes me like the song—and Icehouse—all the more.


Marybeth’s latest novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s featured book club selection and as a way to celebrate we’re giving away a number of prizes including a trip for two to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, handcrafted sea glass jewelry, and organic soap from Southern Soap Factory. Read this post for entry details.

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A Table Of Her Own – The Writing Space of Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth’s Table At Panera

Last month, Kimberly Brock talked about being a traveling writer, an itinerant creative who writes wherever she can find a quiet spot. That would be true of me as well. With six kids and a husband who works from home, the idea of an office is a luxury. I do have a closet, though, if that counts. I’ll never forget when my husband told me he was giving me that closet to do with as I pleased right after we moved in. I don’t think he’s ever given me a nicer gift. I do love that closet.

Recently I did a Q&A at a library and one of the participants asked me where I write. Without batting an eye, I said, “On my bed.” They all laughed like I’d told a joke. But I was serious. I sit on my bed with pillows propping me up and my laptop perched on my lap and type away. It might not be glamorous. I may not have some gorgeous, inspiring view. I may not have framed book covers and news clippings surrounding me and encouraging me to press on. But I have my computer and– by hook or by crook– I’ve  found a place to write.

For this post, I shared a photo of my favorite corner at Panera, a local eatery where I can go write when life gets too noisy and  crazy  at the Whalens. I’ve also used the library, the cafe in Barnes and Noble, and the front seat of my car. The desperate can not be too proud. The point, I’ve found, is not the where. It’s the what. What am I writing? What’s my word count goal for that day? What is my character struggling with?

When I focus on the what, the where doesn’t matter at all. I can write through a child jumping on and off my bed, constant interruptions, and a ringing phone. I can write through loud conversations at nearby tables, the acrid scent of burned bagels, and the endless beeping of cash registers. With a good set of headphones and Pandora, I’m good to go. In all my wandering, I  have found a place to write. It might not be perfect, but somehow, it works.

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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.  

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Literary First Love – Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I was a pretty good kid, a rule follower who didn’t want to rock the boat. The only time I really made eye contact with my teachers was when I was talking with them about some book I loved. If I was going to get in trouble, it was for reading when I should’ve been paying attention. I was adept at hiding a book behind my notebook, thinking I was pulling one over on my teacher. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure they knew what I was doing– they were just glad to see one of their students reading by choice.

One of those books was The Prince Of Tides, a book I  discovered the spring of my senior year of high school.  I read  it during class  and in my bedroom and at the dinner table and in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car and anywhere else I could sneak  a few minutes to immerse myself in the story. I remember the boy I had a huge crush on glancing down at the book’s  cover from his seat in front of me. “Why do you keep reading that book?” he inquired. I tried to put into words how much the book meant to me, the feelings it created inside of me, my face– I’m sure– glowing as I gushed. The blank look I got in return told me that things were probably not going to work out for us. Because he didn’t understand the effect this story had on me.

I was carried away by Pat Conroy’s writing– the characters, the setting, the plot– all worked together to immerse me in a setting that was familiar yet mystical. As a North Carolina native,  I knew the South Carolina coast, had been there many times. But I didn’t know it the way he described it, and I certainly didn’t know any families like the Wingoes. It made me look closer at the people I thought I knew, made me wonder what family secrets they were hiding. Through that book, Pat Conroy taught me that it was possible to write about the familiar in a magical way. He made me hope that one day, I might do the same, or try to.

Books, like people, have different impacts on our lives. Some effect us forever. Some are utterly forgettable. Different books have different impacts on different people, based on where they are in life when they read them. I’ve talked to many a person since I read Prince Of Tides who didn’t like it at all. But for me, it was a book that seized me from page one and didn’t loosen its grip until that last scene when Tom is driving over the bridge, having made his choices. It is a book that has stayed with me to this day, a literary first love of the highest order.

Marybeth’s third novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s book club selection.  You can read the first 40 pages here.

When Macy Dillon was five years old her father encouraged her to draw a picture in the guestbook of a Carolina beach house. The next year, Macy returned to discover a drawing by an unidentified little boy on the facing page. Over the next eleven years the children continue to exchange drawings … until tragedy ends visits to the beach house altogether. During her final trip to Sunset, Macy asks her anonymous friend to draw her one last picture and tells him where to hide the guest book in hopes that one day she will return to find it—and him. Twenty-five years after that first picture, Macy is back at Sunset Beach—this time toting a broken family and a hurting heart. One night, alone by the ocean, Macy asks God to help her find the boy she never forgot, the one whose beautiful pictures touched something deep inside of her. Will she ever find him? And if she does, will the guestbook unite them or merely be the relic of a lost childhood?


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