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Author to Author– Marybeth Whalen and Karen White, Part Two

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Karen White | @MarybethWhalen and @KarenWhiteWrite

We’re back today with part two of our “Author To Author” conversation between Karen White and our own Marybeth Whalen. Since both of their novels were inspired by where they live, we thought you’d like to listen in on a conversation about how they turned familiar locations into tales of suspense. If you missed part one, just click here to read!

And if you’re looking for good books to share with your book club, with a reading friend, or just with yourself, look no further than The Night The Lights Went Out and The Things We Wish Were True.

Now, on with the conversation– this time Karen’s asking Marybeth the questions!

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Karen White: In The Things We Wish Were True, you’ve set the story in small town North Carolina. Since you live in a small NC town, I’m wondering if that was your inspiration for the setting?

Marybeth Whalen: Not only was my town (a suburb of Charlotte) the inspiration, my own neighborhood was! If you read the book and then visited where I live, the setting would seem very familiar. All my neighbors know that I used our neighborhood– but I’ve had to assure all of them that I didn’t use any of the people. Any similarities are purely coincidental.

Karen White: There seems to be a fresh crop of “suburbia” settings in contemporary fiction over the last year or so. Why do you think this setting is so appealing to readers and why did you chose to move your setting from the NC coast, where many of your previous books are set, to the suburbs?

Marybeth Whalen: Actually my second novel, She Makes It Look Easy, was also set in a suburb of Charlotte, and back then it was something I wanted to explore further, but alas the publisher wanted more romantic beach books. So I wrote a few more of those and then circled back to this setting that I love, because it’s where I live– physically and emotionally. The suburbs are such rich places to mine for material– mostly because we all work so hard to be happy, yet inevitable life stuff sneaks in and strives to mess that up. Exploring how human beings react to this tension between perfection and reality gives a writer so much to dig into. There’s definitely a dark side to suburbia. I like to expose the darkness, but also, ultimately, to offer hope in the midst of it.

Karen White: Your book is about secrets from the past. Was there a real secret that inspired this book?

Marybeth Whalen: Gosh I wish I could say yes– that would make this interview so much juicier! But no, I made it all up.

Karen White: Since you’re writing a book close to home, were you tempted to use real people? And are there any characters inspired by real people in the book?

Marybeth Whalen: There is one scene in the book that was taken straight from real life, but I added some changes because, fiction. (I won’t tell you which one though.) Many of my situations/characters are created when I look at a real life person/situation and think “Ok, I see this or that. But what if…” And then I just let my mind go.

Karen White: Please share your secret for the juggling you do with your writing and blogging while raising six children. If there’s a recipe for a power drink please post the recipe in the space below.

Marybeth Whalen: There are two power drinks, actually. Coffee and wine. 🙂 And as for my secret, you can’t do it all. So just handle whatever is screaming loudest and let the rest go. It all comes back around eventually.

Thanks Karen– we so appreciated you sharing with us this week!

About Marybeth Whalen

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

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Author to Author: Karen White and Marybeth Whalen, Part One

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Karen White | @MarybethWhalen and @KarenWhiteWrite

Today we’re featuring a conversation between our own Marybeth Whalen and bestselling and (beloved) author Karen White in which they discuss Karen’s new novel, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, Marybeth’s recent novel THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE, and what it’s like to draw from your own life and surroundings when writing. Be sure to come back on Wednesday to hear the other half of the conversation!

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Marybeth Whalen: With prior books you’ve dealt with secrets buried in the past. In your new novel you’re delving into secrets buried in suburbia. Though a bit of a shift for you, did you find any similarities in the writing process?

Karen White: I actually planned this book to take place strictly in the present. And then I met one of my main characters, 93-year-old Sugar Prescott, and I felt the pull to discover her past which meant that I needed to bring the reader with me. So, technically, this book does delve into secrets of the past…AND the present. Writing a contemporary mystery was challenging (so much to learn!) but a great experience for stretching my writing muscles. I really loved tying the two stories together and finding what the common elements were. In this case, it was ultimately about friendships, past and present.

Marybeth Whalen: Is Sweet Apple based on a real place? If so, where?

Karen White It is! It’s based on the Atlanta suburb of Milton, Georgia where I have lived for almost 25 years. Our historic downtown area is called “Crabapple” so I thought Sweet Apple was a good substitute.

Marybeth Whalen: What was enjoyable about writing a more contemporary/”closer to home” novel? What was harder?

Karen White Writing a story set where I live and in a contemporary time period sounds easy–but in many ways it made it harder. I needed to make sure that anyone living in a suburban setting could relate to the story and characters–not just Atlantans. And I also had to make sure that any of the characters that may or may not have been inspired by real people were fictionalized enough to make them unrecognizable.

What really was enjoyable was being able to sit out on my back porch and describe what the seasons looked and felt like–the best kind of research!

Marybeth Whalen: How did a near collision inspire this novel?

Karen White I was in the middle of fishing about in my head for my next book, looking everywhere for inspiration to add to what else had already been brewing in my head. Around this time my daughter was doing some work with the local historical society and was eagerly telling me about the rich history of the area going back since before the Cherokees. I’d never really thought my hometown had an interesting past and, as a lover of history, I was fascinated.

Then one day, while going through one of our new and numerous roundabouts, I nearly rear-ended a giant white SUV with a ton of stickers covering the rear window. Within a couple of seconds I knew everything about the family who owned the vehicle–including the driver as her license plate read YERSERV. Yes, tennis is a big thing in the Atlanta ‘burbs.

That’s when it occurred to me that if I ever wanted to write a book set where I live, I had the bookends for the story. All I needed to do was fill in the middle parts. And that’s how THE NIGHT THE LGHTS WENT OUT was born.

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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Spring Book Club Selections

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

Spring Books

The weather is growing warm again. The sun is beginning to make regular appearances. Flowers are budding. And we are back with two fabulous book club selections. Yes, it’s been a while but we like to think these two books are worth the wait. One of them is by an all-time favorite author and the other a debut. Both are beautifully written. Captivating. Memorable. Both explore the dynamics of love and family. Both will leave you with your heart in your throat. You will go for a voyage on the famed Queen Mary and then you will search for a missing husband. You will, we believe, be unable to look away as these stories unfold before you.

So, without further ado, we give you our spring book club selections:

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Bridge Across the OceanA BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN by Susan Meissner

Wartime intrigue spans the lives of three women—past and present—in the latest novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life.
 
February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Résistance spy.

Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark…

Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings.

**Read an excerpt of A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN here.

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Almost Missed YouALMOST MISSED YOU by Jessica Strawser

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always.

They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

**Read an excerpt of ALMOST MISSED YOU here.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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Three Lies To Watch Out For

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

It’s no secret that any thriller worth its salt is built on lies and we’ve found three upcoming novels by three of our favorite authors that master the art of deceit. Make sure you add these three books to your reading list.

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lie to meLIE TO ME by J.T. Ellison

Domestic noir at its best. Readers will devour this stunning page-turner about the disintegration of a marriage as grief, jealousy, betrayal and murder destroy the facade of the perfect literary couple. New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison takes her exceptional writing to a new level with this breakout novel. 

They built a life on lies 

Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.

Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.

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one perfect lieONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline

On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Justin’s baseball games. But Justin is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

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Every last lieEVERY LAST LIE by Mary Kubica

New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 

Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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It Happens All The Time by Amy Hatvany: A Review

Today’s post by Chelsea Humphrey | @SuspenseThrill

Our guest reviewer today is Chelsea Humphrey, a member of our blog and social media network and a wonderful, smart, bookish friend. Please give her a warm welcome and then grab a box of tissues. We feel certain her review of Amy Hatvany’s new novel, IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, will grab you by the throat.

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it happens all the time“I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.”

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever.

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If I’m being completely honest, this is the hardest review I’ve written. I’m going to stop right here and preface two things: 1) If you are wanting to go into this book completely blind (though I’m not sure how you would if you’ve seen any marketing for it yet) then stop right here. I’m not going to spoil the read, but I will be delving into the content matter a bit and wanted to give fair warning. 2) If you have a rape trigger, I normally advise against reading rape-related material, but if you’ve ever been a victim of sexual assault I’d highly encourage you to read this. Hopefully it’ll bring you some of the comfort you may never have received from your close ones at your lowest points.

“Violators cannot live with the truth; survivors cannot live without it.”
– Chrystine Oksana

I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face and snot pouring out my nose because I realized I’ve been searching for this book for the past decade; this coming October 20 will mark 10 years since the night I was raped. As difficult as it is to put those words to paper, it’s in the hope that I can reach someone who is silently suffering from a similar situation that needs an anchor. My intention is not to make this review about my experience or go into intricate detail; however, I want to establish the foundation of why this book is so necessary for women like myself. The media for years has pummeled our society with the notion that rape is a rare occurrence and only is acknowledged in the most brutal of circumstances. While film and literature tend to portray rape as only happening at the hands of serial killers, kidnappers, and psychopaths, most women are actually assaulted by someone they know, not a stranger. I spent many years questioning the validity of my own assault because my attacker was a “good guy”; he had always been kind to people and never once given the impression he was a monster of this sort. This book addresses that more realistic and messy type of situation and helped ease some of the confusion I had struggled with for years.

Consent– it is the entire foundation for Hatvany’s latest novel. I can already tell this book will ruffle some feathers and bring up all kinds of discussion and controversy amongst it’s readers. The plot revolves around Amber and Tyler; Amber is the only “miracle” child of her over protective parents (I could easily relate to this being an only child myself and the product of 10 years of trying to conceive after being told having children might not happen for my parents). She’s been shouldering the weight of feeling like she must succeed in everything to make up for the lack of other children her parents were unable have. Tyler moves in next door and becomes the older brother Amber never had; together they help each other through some extremely dark times, and although Tyler has always harbored feelings of more than friendship for Amber, she has never seen him as anything more than a brother. Enter here the controversy of consent. Without spoiling the read, we come to a point many years later that stops the reader in their tracks to consider their own belief on where consent lies.

Click here to watch a video of Amy Hatvany discussing the experience that led her to write this novel.

All in all, this is the type of story that crosses genre barriers and holds us accountable for our views and how we treat victims. While this is a story about the attack and it’s ripple effect of consequences, it’s also a story of hope and redemption. Is it possible for someone to commit an unthinkable act and change? Can healing take place between two parties when this level of violation has occurred? I love how this book didn’t make it easy for the reader; there are no clear cut answers or magical happy endings. The reality of the attack altering Amber’s life forever is something all victims can relate to; while it is possible to work through the side effects (anxiety, depression, fear, and self-loathing) with therapy and sometimes medication, there’s never a fix all cure that can take back that horrible event. This book did, however, present the right questions that we as a society need to consider as we continually see rape cases being paraded across the media in a trivial fashion. If you are looking for a book that will grab your heart and cause you to think about some really tough, but timely issues, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Amy chose to limit the graphic violence and sexual scenes; the rape scene is really a very small portion but I believe this made the book all the more powerful and readable while being less showy for the shock value. This is a story that will stay with me for years to come; I’m so proud of the author for sharing via social media her own experience with being assaulted at a young age, her drive to help overcome the stigma surrounding rape, and encouraging the support of victims everywhere.

*Many thanks to the author and publisher for providing my copy and the platform so that I would have the ability to share my own experience.

**If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help; secrets and trauma can only control you if kept alone and in the dark. I’ve included some national hotlines with resources to help victims of all kinds of sexual assault:

National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline]

Self Injury Hotline
1-800-DON’T-CUT (366-8288)

Suicide Hotline
1.800.SUICIDE (784-2433)

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Chelsea Humphrey is a happily married mother of two whose love of mysteries can be traced back to her first Nancy Drew experience. When not reading and writing book reviews, she likes to drink wine in her jammies and pretend that she exercises. Her blog is www.thesuspenseisthrillingme.com

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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Join Us For A Chat With Lake Union Authors!

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

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Marybeth Whalen’s latest novel, The Things We Wish Were True, was published by Lake Union Publishing, a division of Amazon. Lake Union Publishing offers absorbing works of contemporary and historical fiction that make perfect book club picks. From lush sagas to laugh-out-loud fare, Lake Union Publishing has a story for every taste, season, and mood, from bestselling and debut authors alike.

And Tuesday, March 7th, over 30 amazing authors will be hanging out on Twitter under the #LakeUnionAuthor hashtag to chat with readers and other writers, and each one is offering up a giveaway!! (See the bottom of this post to find out how to enter the She Reads giveaway.)

Here’s what a few of the participating authors had to say about why they’re looking forward to this historic event:

I’ll be at the Twitter party late in the day, as I’m currently living in Singapore. I’m curious to hear what everyone is reading and enjoying, and to earwig conversations with my fellow Lake Union Authors. —  Jo Furniss, author of the forthcoming All The Little Children

There’s no better reward for authors than connecting with readers. Our twitter chat is a great chance to have some fun, meet new people, greet old friends and giveaway lots of books! — Patricia Sands, author of the Love in Provence series

“I’m a chatterbox so I can’t wait to join the other LU authors for a gabfest. I’ll be talking about my favorite subjects: food and books!” — Nicola Marsh, author of Saving Sara

Hearing from readers is one of the best parts of writing a novel! You’d think it would go the other way around, but talking to readers I often end up learning something new about my book; something I’d never thought about! (And I’ve thought about it a lot!!!) — Nancy Star, author of Sisters One, Two, Three

I love hearing from readers because it’s so often a story—a connection from real life—that I hear back in return for the story the book told. The writing life can be pretty isolated and lonely at times, and connecting with readers makes it feel like we’re sharing in the love of books and the exchange of the stories that change and challenge and stay with us for life. — Joy Jordan Lake, author of the forthcoming novel A Tangled Mercy

 

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Joining the party on March 7th is easy: log onto Twitter anytime between 4:30 and 9:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. In the Twitter search window, type #LakeUnionAuthors to see the entire chat. Ask questions, and follow the links to the giveaways being offered. You can also go to the Twitter page of your favorite author (for example, go to @SteenaHolmes for Steena Holmes’s Twitter page) and see her conversation. Many authors will continue chatting after the designated time slot. The times each will appear:

4:30 pm EST:
Nancy Star @NancyStarAuthor
Kay Bratt @KayBratt
Nicola Marsh @NicolaMarsh
Rochelle Weinstein @rochwein
Aimie K Runyan @aimiekrunyan
Camille Pagán @cnoepagan
J A Stone @jastoneauthor
Melissa DePino & Elizabeth Trostler @missydepino and @elizabethlaban
Soraya Nicholas @Soraya_Lane

5:15 pm EST:
Joy Jordan-Lake @joyjordanlake
Mary (M.K.) Tod @MKTodAuthor
Catherine Ryan Hyde @cryanhyde
Maddie Dawson @maddiedawson1

6:00 pm EST:
Steena Holmes @steenaholmes
Virginia Franken @virginiafranken
Barbara Taylor Sissel @barbarasissel
Patricia Sands @patricia_sands
Thelma Adams @thelmadams
Christine Nolfi @christinenolfi

6:45 pm EST:
Barbara Claypole White @bclaypolewhite
Dina Silver @DinaSilver
Elizabeth Blackwell @eblackwellbooks
Lisa Steinke @lizandlisa
Jo Furniss @Jo_Furniss
Heather Burch @HeatherBurch

7:00 pm EST
Kerry Lonsdale @kerrylonsdale
Suzanne Kelman @suzkelman
Marybeth Whalen @marybethwhalen @shereadsbookCLB

7:30 pm EST:
Camille Di Maio @camilledimaio
Grace Greene @Grace_Greene
Megan Chance @MeganSChance
Barbara Josselsohn @barbarajoss
Emily Carpenter @EmilyDCarpenter
Marilyn Simon Rothstein @NounsandVerbs1

8:15 pm EST:
Catherine McKenzie @cemckenzie1
Loretta Nyhan @LorettaNyhan
Patricia Perry Donovan @PatPDonovan
Kerry Anne King @kerry_anne_king
D.M. Pulley @DMPulleyAuthor

Leave a comment here to win a copy of both my novel, The Things We Wish Were True, and my She Reads partner, Ariel Lawhon’s novel Flight of Dreams. See you on Tuesday!

About Marybeth Whalen

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

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What We (Were) Into: February 2017 Edition

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

February was a short month– but that doesn’t mean we didn’t pack it full of fun stuff. Milder temps and a month devoted to love mades for multiple chances to celebrate with family and friends.

What Marybeth Was Into

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Bookish events: A gathering of published authors in my area for a happy hour that turned into dinner. Appearing with several author friends at the very library I grew up going to. (A full circle moment for sure.) Lunch with author friends at a local winery. Visiting with a book club that served brownie batter dip with lots of fun things to dip into it!

Reading novels I couldn’t put down. I read THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH, NUTSHELL, and THE MARRIAGE LIE (among other things, but these were the stand-outs)– and flew through all of them.

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Valentine’s Day: flowers from my husband, our traditional “red” meal (spaghetti and cherry soda) with something chocolate for dessert, and the annual daddy/daughter dance.

A girls’ weekend with my cousin, who also served as the legal advisor for my newest novel. It’s possible I asked her way too many questions about her work as an assistant district attorney while we were together. We ate delicious food, sipped wine, talked a blue streak, and watched Oscar nominated movies. And speaking of the Oscars– and my widely-proclaimed love of La La Land– let’s just not talk about what happened, k?

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Planning a new novel. This is my favorite part, when the story is still fresh and new and hasn’t given me any problems yet. I haven’t written myself into any corners, forgotten what I named the main character’s sister’s best friend, or discovered I have more things to research. Instead it’s all possibility and promise.

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Planning in general. I’m loving these Frixion erasable pens and my duck egg blue personal size Filofax. My love for planners is as strong is my love for story. And that’s saying quite a lot.

What Ariel Was Into

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To be completely honest, I didn’t do anything in February except finish my novel. That’s it. No fun. No adventures or trips or get-together’s with friends. I wrote. Edited. Revised. Polished. As you know, I had pneumonia in January so it was easy enough to decide that exercise was non-essential and bad for my health. But I also decided that cleaning the house and doing laundry was optional. Grocery shopping happened on a minimal basis and only when we were down to powdered milk and ramen noodles. My husband brought home pizza a lot. We also ate out more than usual. I didn’t get much sleep. You don’t even want to know about the decline in my personal grooming habits.

But I am happy to report that I sent the finished manuscript for I WAS ANASTASIA to my editor on Friday. It was a really tricky project and required every ounce of skill (and then some) that I possess in the areas of research and writing. It’s another historical mystery with multiple narrators and a unique structure. Now that it’s done (and din’t kill me), I can finally share a bit about the book. Here’s the semi-official description:

Ariel Lawhon has set her sights on one of history’s most beguiling mysteries: Did Anastasia Romanov survive the Russian Revolution, or was Anna Anderson, the woman who notoriously claimed her identity, an impostor?

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who this woman is and what actually happened to Anastasia creates a saga that spans fifty years and three continents. This thrilling page-turner is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

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The view from my office at sunset. Because I spent so much time at my desk last month, this is the sight that greeted me every day around 5:30. I would often stand in the bay window that looks out on our back yard and stare at this sight. And then, once the colors melted into darkness, I got back to work.

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 One Book You Should Read This Winter

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

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

Marybeth:

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

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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

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

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

Ariel:

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

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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

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

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

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

About Marybeth Whalen

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

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What’s Saving Our Lives This Winter

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

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

Marybeth:

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

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

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

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

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

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Ariel:

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

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

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

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

About Marybeth Whalen

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

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What We’re Into: January 2017 Edition

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

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

Marybeth:

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

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

lala land

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

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

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

Ariel:

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Photo credit: Native Union

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

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

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

About Marybeth Whalen

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

read more