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Author to Author: Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft

Today’s post by Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft | @SarahPekkanen and @KCraftWriter

We’re thrilled to have Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft with us today in the first of a two part interview in which they discuss their new novels, THINGS YOU WON’T SAY and THE FAR END OF HAPPY. At the heart of each novel is a woman who finds her life upended when her husband picks up a gun. Both novels are compelling, provocative, and complex. We’re certain you’ll never look at those on the ragged edge of tragedy the same way again. Up first Kathryn Craft interviews Sarah Pekkanen about her sixth novel, THINGS YOU WON’T SAY. And we hope you’ll join us again on Thursday for part two.

Pekkanen Craft Collage

Kathryn: I understand you trace the genesis of Things You Won’t Say back to a shooting you covered as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun fifteen years ago, in which an on-duty female officer was badly injured in a crash that killed her mentor. Yet for your fiction you chose a male officer (Mike) to suffer from actions taken in the line of duty, and gave his stay-at-home wife (Jamie) the main point of view. Tell us about how you made these choices. Did you ever consider making the police officer a female?

Sarah: I chose Jamie to narrate because I’m always interested in the people just beyond the spotlight, since they seem to have the most interesting stories to tell. Whenever we see a politician standing up on stage, facing a sex scandal, I’m curious about not only the stony-faced wife beside him, but about the children and other family members who are invisible casualties. I was drawn to the story of a woman who is desperate to keep her family together and is fighting a grueling private battle amidst a very public crisis, which is why I knew I had to give Jamie voice.

Kathryn: In keeping with your title, the characters in your book have trouble articulating what’s on their minds and in their hearts. Tabitha the elephant was such a great character for extending this theme because of the way Lou had to intuit her behavior and look for signs. I have to wonder: was the choice of Jamie’s sister’s occupation as an elephant keeper a conscious metaphor for “the elephant in the room”? If not, why the choice of elephants—do you have a special love for them?

Sarah: One of the best things about writing books is that I get an excuse to explore subjects that make me curious. For my second novel, Skipping A Beat, for example, I wrote about a woman who sees scenes from her life reflected in the world’s great operas. I knew nothing about opera, but was able to dive into research, attending workshops for opera singers at the Kennedy Center and reading autobiographies of singers like Renee Fleming. Before writing Things You Won’t Say, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube video showing an elephant painting a picture of a flower by holding the brush in its trunk. I was captivated by the intelligence and sensitivity of this great creature, and wanted to learn more. I spent some time at my local zoo, and interviewed elephant keepers, and read as much as I could about the animals. As with many of my characters in the book, there is much more to elephants than meets the eye!

Kathryn: Some of our country’s greatest novelists, from Hemingway to Steinbeck to Tony Hillerman and Jennifer Weiner, were once journalists. You may recall that it was your coverage of the Columbine shootings that made me believe I could sustain tension in my 12-hour time frame for The Far End of Happy while delving into the backstories of my characters, a technique you used to amazing effect in your article. What were some of the benefits of journalistic training as you transitioned to writing fiction, and what were some of the challenges in making the leap?

Sarah: The most valuable trait I picked up as a journalist is discipline. I can’t imagine telling my gruff old city editor that I was feeling blocked and couldn’t get in my story about the city council meeting – he would’ve picked me up and tossed me out of the office! I learned to write under any conditions, too, since newsrooms are always crowded and noisy. That helped immensely, since as the mother of three boys, my house is always crowded and noisy! Sometimes I yearn to go away to a writer’s retreat, a place with an all-white room where the coffee is hot and the sound of the beach filters in through the windows… but I’m glad I don’t require a place like that to create my novels, otherwise I’d only write one every twenty years!

Kathryn: You are amassing quite an impressive body of work, Sarah! I’ve read two of your novels, which were very different in nature—The Best of Us, a college reunion story set at a luxury villa in Jamaica, and your forthcoming Things you Won’t Say, a more serious, ripped-from-the-headlines story. In this era of author branding, what do you think is the “Sarah Pekkanen” ingredient you bring to each of your books? What do your fans respond to the most?

Sarah: Thank you! All of my novels are stand alone, yet there’s a common thread linking them. They all center around the important relationships in a woman’s life. My first book was about sisterhood, the second about marriage, the third about new friendships, the fourth about old friendships, the fifth about sisters-in-law, and Things You Won’t Say focuses on the wife of a police officer, the officer’s ex-girlfriend (and mother of his oldest son) and the wife’s sister. Women have such rich, complex, sustaining relationships, and I love exploring the nuances. I always want to insert compelling plots into my novels, then let my female characters work their way through the crisis, often leaning on one another as they do so.

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Things You Won't SayIn this timely and provocative novel, internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen takes us inside a family in crisis and a marriage on the brink after a tragic shooting.

How far would you go to save your family?

Every morning, as her husband Mike straps on his SIG Sauer and pulls on his heavy Magnum boots, Jamie Anderson tenses up. Then comes the call she has always dreaded: There’s been a shooting at police headquarters. Mike isn’t hurt, but his long-time partner is grievously injured. As weeks pass and her husband’s insomnia and disconnectedness mount, Jamie realizes he is an invisible casualty of the attack. Then the phone rings again. Another shooting—but this time Mike has pulled the trigger.

But the shooting does more than just alter Jamie’s world. It’s about to change everything for two other women. Christie Simmons, Mike’s flamboyant ex, sees the tragedy as an opportunity for a second chance with Mike. And Jamie’s younger sister, Lou, must face her own losses to help the big sister who raised her. As the press descends and public cries of police brutality swell, Jamie tries desperately to hold together her family, no matter what it takes.

In her characteristic exploration of true-to-life relationships, Sarah Pekkanen has written a complex, compelling, and openhearted novel—her best yet.

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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Summer Reading Series: Laura Lane McNeal

Today’s post by author Laura Lane McNeal | @llmcneal

We’re delighted to welcome Laura Lane McNeal, author DOLLBABY, to the blog today. Laura has been kind enough to share her summer reading list with us, and, I have to admit, I’m reading several of these books myself this summer. And if you missed DOLLBABY when it released last year, no worries! It’s just come out in paperback.

Summer Reading Series

I love history and tend to lean toward historical fiction or history related books, but a good story is a good story, so in the summer I like to read books that just make me happy. There are so many good titles coming out this summer, and so many I’m trying to catch up on, so to narrow it down to four or five is tough. However, here’s my short list that includes multiple genres:

DEAD WAKE

By Erik Larson

I’m a huge fan of Erik Larson. And since my next book takes place in the 1920’s, I’m enjoying reading books from around that same era. Dead Wake is the story of the Lusitania disaster in 1915. The luxury ocean liner, the Lusitania, sets sail from New York on its way to Liverpool. Germany has declared war, and the waters around Britain are now in a war zone. Civilian ships are, per the war code, safe from attack. But Germany is determined to change the rules of the game. Historical and dramatic, his novels read like fiction.

THE FLYING CIRCUS

By Susan Crandall

Set in the rapidly changing world of the 1920’s, three people from very different backgrounds are set adrift by life-altering circumstances only to find themselves crisscrossing America’s heartland together, exploring the rapidly expanding roles of air racing, bootlegging and barnstorming. From the author of Whistling Past The Graveyard, Susan Crandall knows how to capture a time and place.

PRETTY BABY

By Mary Kubica

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. Heidi Wood invites the homeless young girl to take refuge in their home. What starts as an act of kindness soon forces Heidi to decide how far she will go to help a stranger. Mary Kubica is a master storyteller, weaving in storylines you won’t expect.

THE IDEA OF LOVE

By Patti Callahan Henry

This is Patti’s twelfth novel, and she is a master of the love story in the low country of South Carolina. The Idea of Love is the story of a widow from a coastal town in South Carolina with a secret, and a Los Angeles screenwriter who is out of ideas and looking for his next big hit, and will do anything, tell any sort of lie, to get it. When they connect in what seems like fate, their stories begin to unravel. Patti is great at taking the reader to this part of the country and immersing them in a heartbreaking tale of love.

THE SOUND OF GLASS

By Karen White

A woman inherits her dead husband’s estate in South Carolina, and along with it, the secrets of her husband’s unspoken past that forces her to face her own fears as she finds the courage to heal. A multi-layered mystery that will keep you up at night, Karen never ceases to amaze me with her story telling prowess.

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DollbabyA big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

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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Book Club Recipe: The Precious One

Today’s post by Ingrid of Edible Tapestry | @EdibleTapestry

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Thank you, Marisa De los Santos. Thank you. I’m as big a fan as anyone of the vague, often times, dark ending to a good novel, but being the old-fashioned girl that I am, who still believes in fairy tale endings, I was so relieved to reach the end of The Precious One and find this ending. I am just feminist enough to appreciate the fact that it’s popular for heroines in modern women’s fiction stories to save themselves from their own conflicts, and the beautiful characters in this novel do, but with the help of some pretty shiny knights standing beside them. So refreshing.

I had planned to make my own version of the ubiquitous curried chicken salad that De los Santos included in the book, to go along with it, because it made me laugh that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to shop at the same corner specialty food store, and some tried to pass the dishes off as their own, not realizing that the people they served them to would know they hadn’t because they were commonly served on their own dining room tables. I loved that. I just really did. But then lemon ricotta cookies were mentioned at a key point in Taisy and Willow’s story and I decided I just had to have them…in my post and in my belly. When I reached the end, I was so glad that I did because I found it more poignant to turn those cookies into cakes.

I used a heart-shaped silicone muffin pan to make my cakes, but a regular cupcake pan or mini bundt pan would also work well. The buttercream decorations just gave them a little more color and interest. Pre-made royal icing flowers that are sold with cake decorating supplies would be a simple, fun substitute to piped accents. It should be noted that the poured fondant takes several hours to harden over the moist cakes, so they should be made a day or two in advance.

Lemon Ricotta Cakes

Ingredients:

Cake

1/2 cup salted butter

2 c. raw sugar

12 oz. ricotta cheese

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

The juice and zest of 2 medium lemons

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt

Lemon Poured Fondant

1/2 c. corn syrup

8 T melted butter

2 tsp. pure lemon extract

8 c. confectioner’s sugar

4 drops yellow food color

4 T water

Buttercream Frosting (optional)

1/4 c. butter

2 c. confectioner’s sugar

Pinch of salt

2 T whole milk or water, more or less as needed

Food color

Method:

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and flour pans, unless using silicone.

Make the cakes by first creaming the butter with a mixer. Add the sugar and cream together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Whip in the ricotta.

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Spoon into pan to fill sections 2/3 full.

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Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan resting on a cooling rack. Invert to rack and cool completely.

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To make the poured fondant, combine the melted butter with the corn syrup. Stir in the color, flavor, and confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the water until the mixture is smooth.

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When the cakes are cool, place them on a wire rack and puddle the fondant over each and gently coax it to run down the sides to coat the.

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Allow the cakes to dry overnight before adding buttercream decorations.

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Yield: 24 cupcake sized cakes

 

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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Summer Reading Series: Pam Jenoff

Today’s post by Pam Jenoff | @PamJenoff

We’re delighted to welcome Pan Jenoff to the blog today. She is a generous, prolific, gifted storyteller and we’ve long admired her work. Her new novel, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, releases in a few weeks and now would be the perfect time to preorder your copy! But until then, she’s graciously shared the novels she’ll be reading this summer. Enjoy!

Summer Reading Series

For me, answering the question, “What’s in your beach bag?” is something of a cheat – I haven’t read on the beach in six years because I’m chasing three small children! But in the ten minutes each night before I close my eyes, I will pretend I’m on the beach and read these:

My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb.  Everything Cathy writes is emotionally riveting.  This story, of a lifelong friendship between two women and the haunting truth one discovers when she goes search for the other in Scotland, about the other will be no different.  Pack some tissues in that beach bag!

The Sound of Glass by Karen White.  Not just because Karen is a gifted and remarkable writer, or because I have adored every one of her books.  I’ve heard that this book, a tale of a woman returning to her husband’s ancestral South Carolina home and the mysteries it holds from the past, is her best yet.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. Williams’ latest features a young woman in 1960’s Cape Cod on the brink of a perfect life until unwelcome visitors and dark secrets threaten to unravel it. Kirkus Reviews called in “Kennedy-esque.” I’m sold!

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.  These authors are new to me.  But I’ve been hearing raves everywhere for this story of a woman whose life starts changing to reflect her Facebook status.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica.  This is sort of a cheat because I have already read it.  But the story of a woman who befriends a teenager with a baby and becomes ensnared in a web of lies is so good I will be reading it again.  Warning: do not read it when you are supposed to be chasing the kids or doing something else because you will be completely captivated too.

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL.  Her latest, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, will be released on July 28.

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The Last Summer at Chelsea BeachSummer 1941 

Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

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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Summer Reading Series: Jane Green

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Jane Green | @JaneGreen

We’re delighted to have the brilliant, generous, and charming Jane Green with us today sharing the books that are in her beach bag this summer. And in addition to sharing her most anticipated books, she is also giving away a copy of her new novel, SUMMER SECRETS, and a beach tote packed with summer essentials. (See the photo and entry form below). Welcome, and thank you, Jane! As always your taste is impeccable.

Summer Reading Series

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave | She’s not only one of my favorite writers, but one of my favorite people, and this is first on my list.

Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg | The Middlesteins was a wonderful, poignant book, and I can’t wait to dive into this.

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy | I was lucky enough to read this as an advance copy, and it had me crying with laughter in a way I hadn’t since Bridget Jones’s Diary. I plan to re-read it on the beach.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume | What can I say, who won’t be reading this adult novel from the woman we all fell in love with as teenagers.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin | Another I was lucky enough to read early, and another I plan to revisit, savoring the stories of hoity toity women on the Upper East Side of New York.

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SummerSecretsBeachBag

Jane has very graciously offered to give this gorgeous beach bag stuffed with some of her favorite items–and of a copy of SUMMER SECRETS–to one lucky winner today! See the entry form below for details.

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Summer SecretsWhen a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It’s a mistake for which she can’t forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it’s time to grow up. But she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green’s keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart, Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms.

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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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Author to Author: Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews

Today’s guests are New York Times bestselling authors Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews | @PCalHenry and @MKayAndrews

We’re delighted to visit with Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews today. Their novels, THE IDEA OF LOVE and BEACH TOWN both center around small Southern towns and people who show up with movies on their mind. So we’ve brought them together to discuss this charming coincidence as well as the writing life. We hope you enjoy!

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Patti Callahan Henry: We met when you were writing mysteries, and I hadn’t yet published. I asked you to meet me for lunch and you did. It was the beginning of not only a beautiful friendship, but it was also the graciousness of one author being willing to mentor another unpublished author. Do you believe that these author to author friendships are vital to our writing lives?

Mary Kay Andrews: I believe in kindness. And karma. So many other writers (almost all of them women) helped me when I was starting my career in fiction, I feel sure I wouldn’t have the career I have today without their help. And it’s a two-way street. I’ve gotten back much more in friendship than I’ve given. Writing is such solitary work, it’s vital to have friendships with others who are walking our same, strange path. I can make a quick call, text, or email to a writer pal, asking for help in figuring out how to get away with murder, (fictionally) and instead of calling the cops, they’ll text me back their brilliant solution to my thorny plotting problem.

Mary Kay Andrews:

I know you’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology and legends. How does this play into the stories you tell in your fiction?

Patti Callahan Henry: Story built on story. That’s how our world and our lives have been formed. If these myths play into my stories, it is only subconsciously, which I’m sure does happen. I have never developed or constructed a story around a known myth, although I have included them inside the story itself. I hope that having read and loved mythology has enriched my storytelling.

Patti Callahan Henry: In this new novel we both wrote (fictionally) a little bit about the movie industry. We didn’t know we were both doing this until the rough drafts were done. Tell me what inspired your story and why you tapped into ‘location scouting’ as a subject.

Mary Kay Andrews: I was looking around for a fascinating occupation for my protagonist, and the idea of having Greer Hennessy, my heroine, be a film location scout seemed like a good idea. It helped that tons of television and movie projects are shot in and around Atlanta every year, and that my daughter Katie handles film permitting for the Atlanta municipality where she works, so I had easy access to scouts for research.

Mary Kay Andrews: In your new novel THE IDEA OF LOVE, your protagonist seems to be a totally sympathetic character—newly widowed and deeply in love with her late husband. Or is she? Where did you get the idea for Ella?

Patti Callahan Henry: Ella arrived on the scene for Blake. He was there trying to steal a good love story and there she was with the perfect one. Originally, that was her only purpose—to give Blake a story but as I wrote her and played with the storyline, I realized that she was having a lot more fun making up her life than telling the truth.

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The Idea of LoveAs we like to say in the south, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love–until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

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Patti Callahan Henry: Your titles are some of my very favorite of all time. They always capture the storyline in a quick, witty burst. Do you come up with these titles before, during or after writing the books?

Mary Kay Andrews: I always like to have the title nailed down before I get too deeply into plotting a book. As a former journalist, it helps me keep my mind on track with the story. Usually I come up with my own titles, although I must admit this time around, my brilliant editor at St. Martins’ Press, Jennifer Enderlin, came up with BEACH TOWN.

Mary Kay Andrews: Movies—we both love ‘em. What’s your favorite and why? Is there any one movie that captures the essence of what you try to reveal in your books?

Patti Callahan Henry: Wow. I could never choose just one movie. But if we narrow it down to Romantic Comedies (which is what The Idea of Love’s character, Blake Hunter, writes) then I can with absolute certainty say When Harry Met Sally. It’s the perfect love story (to me). Friends fall in love, fall apart, fall back together. I do think I have tried to write some of that, but of course I’ve written about many, many other things.

Patti Callahan Henry: You have written a book a year for nearly 24 years. Yet, your stories remain fresh, hilarious and chock full of deeper themes about love, friendship and families. How do you do it? How do you keep the well full and your stories alive?”

Mary Kay Andrews: Desperation! I can’t honestly say I always love the writing process, but I will say I always love having written. I think the way to keep writing and keep creativity alive is to be fully engaged in life, and to stay curious. I’m always studying my craft, trying to figure out how to get better at my job—which is coming up with a satisfying story my readers will love.

Mary Kay Andrews: In THE IDEA OF LOVE, Hank is a screenwriter with crippling writer’s block. Have you ever suffered from the dreaded WB? How did you counter it?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Oh, yes of course I’ve felt like there are times that I can’t write, that I don’t feel the words and stories coming as easily as other times. But I’ve never been crippled by it (hoping I never am). I’ve been able to write, often badly, to push through the block or slow-flow of a bad spell of creativity. In those times, I’ve spent more time reading than writing. More time walking or being in nature than at the computer. Eventually, so far, the flow starts again if I don’t give up on it.

Patti Callahan Henry: You often talk about your ‘junking’ expeditions, and we both love the Savannah area. Both of these things have found their way into your novels. How often do you put your real life into your stories?”

Mary Kay Andrews: BEACH TOWN doesn’t have a lot of junking per se, but Greer’s love interest in the book has a great loft apartment full of treasures he’s recovered from his surroundings—including a vintage stove that’s a lot like a vintage 1950s Wedgewood stove I bought off Craigslist for $90, and re-sold for more than ten times that at my antique booth on Tybee Island. I never know if I write so I can junk, or junk so I can write. I just know I can’t live without writing—or junking.

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Beach TownGreer Hennessy needs palm trees.

As a movie location scout, picture-perfect is the name of the game. But her last project literally went up in flames, and her career is on the verge of flaming out. Greer has been given one more chance, if she can find the perfect undiscovered beach hideaway for a big-budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town called Cypress Key. There’s one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino-which will be perfect for the film’s explosive climax.

There’s just one problem. Eben Thibadeaux, the town mayor, completely objects to Greer’s plan. A lifelong resident of Cypress Key, Eben wants the town to be revitalized, not commercialized. After a toxic paper plant closed, the bay has only recently been reborn, and Eb has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. But Greer has a way of making things happen, regardless of obstacles. And Greer and Eb are way too attracted to each other for either of them to see reason.

Between an ambitious director and his entourage-including a spoiled “It Boy” lead actor-who parachute into town, a conniving local ex-socialite, and a cast of local fangirls and opportunists who catch the movie bug, nothing is going to be the same in Cypress Key. Now Greer is forced to make some hard choices: about the people and the town she’s come to care about, and about her own life. True love is only for the movies, right? Can Greer find a way to be the heroine in her own life story? Told with inimitable heart and humor, Mary Kay Andrews’ Beach Town is the perfect summer destination.

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Mary Kay Andrews: You write a book a year and have a full family life. How do you re-fill the creative well?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Living a full life is the best thing I know to fill the creative well. I don’t do anything in particular for the well, but I try to follow my interests and enjoy my family and friends. Balance is important and yet I know I fail at it all the time. Then I try again. Laughter, too. That’s the best well-filler of all.

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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Summer Reading Series: Liz and Lisa

Today’s post by Liz and Lisa | @LizandLisa

Our fun and charming guests today are Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of YOUR PERFECT LIFE and the newly released THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS. We thoroughly enjoyed taking a look inside their beach bag! What are YOU reading this summer?

Summer Reading Series

  1. China Rich Girlfriend: We LOVED Crazy, Rich Asians and cannot wait for the follow up. Because who doesn’t love reading about rich people with nothing better to do than make trouble? #wedo
  1. Eight Hundred Grapes: There’s a reason this book has been at the top of every single reading list this summer. There’s something special about the way Laura Dave weaves her stories, and this tale about a family dealing with secrets in wine country is no exception.
  1. Things You Won’t Say: Ripped from the headlines, Sarah sucks us in once again with this poignant story of a family torn apart by an officer-involved shooting. Layered and nuanced, you won’t be able to put it down.
  1. The Good Girl was one of our faves from last summer and Pretty Baby is equally as well done, with twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages!
  1. In A Dark, Dark Wood: Debut author Ruth Ware spins a dark mystery that begins with a bachelorette party and ends with a murder. (Maybe they should have gone easy on the alcohol?) #worstbachelorettepartyEVEH

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The Status of All thingsWhat would you do if you could literally rewrite your fate—on Facebook? This heartwarming and hilarious new novel from the authors of Your Perfect Life follows a woman who discovers she can change her life through online status updates.

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate’s two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

In The Status of All Things, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke combine the humor and heart of Sarah Pekkanen and Jennifer Weiner while exploring the pitfalls of posting your entire life on the Internet. They raise the questions: What if you could create your picture-perfect life? Would you be happy? Would you still be you? For anyone who’s ever attempted—or failed—to be their perfect self online, this is a story of wisdom and wit that will leave you with new appreciation for the true status of your life.

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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Summer Reading Series: Lori Nelson Spielman

Today’s post by bestselling author, Lori Nelson Spielman | @lnelsonspielman

Our guest today is the wonderful Lori Nelson Spielman, author of THE LIFE LIST and SWEET FORGIVENESS. I (Ariel) am particularly interested in the books Lori has tucked in her beach bag this summer since many of them are I’ll be reading many of them myself.

Summer Reading Series

This summer, I’m hoping to catch up on some mysteries/psychological thrillers, a genre that might actually be my first love. As a child, I devoured my brother’s Encyclopedia Brown books, a series featuring a boy detective, by Donald J. Sobol. Later, I discovered Sydney Sheldon and Mary Higgins Clark in my parents’ library and gobbled them up.

It seems I’m always a year behind in my reading, and this summer is no exception. I plan to start by reading last summer’s SheReads pick, THAT NIGHT, by Chevy Stevens. It’s the story of a woman who’s on parole and trying to readjust to life back in her hometown—after serving time for murdering her sister!

I’m probably one of two people in the universe who hasn’t read GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. I’m a huge fan of books with an unexpected twist. I saw the movie, so I already know the big surprise, but I still want to read it.

I’m determined to read some new releases, too, believe it or not! I’ve already downloaded THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins, which is all the buzz right now. It’s told from three points of view, and offers a voyeuristic perspective of a life unraveling and a missing person. Very Hitchcockian, I’m told.

Speaking of buzz and trains, PRETTY BABY comes out July 28th, the much-anticipated follow-up to Mary Kubica’s stunning debut, THE GOOD GIRL. A woman sees a teenager clutching a baby on a train platform, and offers the homeless duo refuge in her home. Based on Mary’s first book, I can only imagine that things go horribly wrong—in a way that keeps readers on edge and turning pages.

And finally, I loved Lori Roy’s BENT ROAD, which won an Edgar Award, so I can’t wait to read LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS when it comes out June 2nd. I love books set in the south, and this one spans two generations, revealing long-held feuds, a mysterious murder, and dark family secrets.

So there you have it. Though I write women’s fiction and love the genre, this summer is going to be filled with chills and thrills. By summer’s end, my hair may be white and my nails bitten to the quick, but I’m guessing it’ll be worth it!

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Sweet Forgiveness#1 international bestselling author Lori Nelson Spielman follows The Life List with Sweet Forgiveness, in which a woman’s receipt of two “forgiveness stones” sends her searching for atonement

The Forgiveness Stones craze is sweeping the nation—instantly recognizable pouches of stones that come with a chain letter and two simple requests: to forgive, and then to seek forgiveness. But New Orleans’ favorite talk show host, Hannah Farr, isn’t biting. Intensely private and dating the city’s mayor, Hannah has kept her very own pouch of Forgiveness Stones hidden for two years—and her dark past concealed for nearly two decades. But when Fiona Knowles, creator of the Forgiveness Stones, appears on Hannah’s show, Hannah unwittingly reveals on air details of a decades-old falling out with her mother.

Spurned by her fans, doubted by her friends, and accused by her boyfriend of marring his political career, Hannah reluctantly embarks on a public journey of forgiveness. As events from her past become clearer, the truth she’s clung to since her teenage years has never felt murkier. Hannah must find the courage to right old wrongs, or risk losing her mother, and any glimmer of an authentic life, forever.

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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The Agent Recommends: A Visit with Stefanie Lieberman

Today’s post by Stefanie Lieberman

We are delighted to have Stefanie Lieberman with us today as part of our ongoing “The Agent Recommends” series. As gatekeepers, agents have such a unique perspective on what makes a great novel. They’re on the front lines of publishing. But they’re also avid readers in their spare time. So we try to visit with some of New York’s finest several times a year and pass their wisdom on to you. And we think you’ll really enjoy these two novels recommended by Stefanie Lieberman: one she represented and one she did not.

MM2014Stefanie is Senior Counsel and a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. She joined J&N in 2005 after practicing intellectual property law at The Guggenheim Museum; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and boutique entertainment firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz. Stefanie holds a BA in Humanities from Yale University and a JD from Northwestern University School of Law.

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Like most literary agents, I’m happy to talk a blue streak about books even during my non-working hours – what you’re reading, what I’m reading, what we both should read next. For me, there are few conversation topics more exciting and consuming than this one. Which is why I was thrilled when the excellent team at SheReads asked if I would write a post recommending two books to their readers: one penned by an author from my own client list, and one by an author I do not represent. The hardest part was narrowing down the number of suggestions to two!

The Cake TherapistTHE CAKE THERAPIST (the book I do represent)

I’ll first propose that you read THE CAKE THERAPIST, written by my wonderful and multi-talented client, Judith Fertig. A debut novel, THE CAKE THERAPIST introduces us to Neely Davis, a pastry chef who returns to her roots in the Midwest following the disintegration of her marriage. Neely is opening the bakery of her dreams in her hometown of Millcreek Valley, Ohio, and she plans to use her unique ability to “taste” feelings in order to help make the business a success. Neely has trained at all the best restaurants, but her true gift in the kitchen is the one she was born with: a natural talent for intuiting the exact right flavor for each person — the special individualized taste that, with a single bite of cake, can resolve a customer’s sticky emotional problem or clear a path back to joy. Neely hopes that baking up a little dessert therapy for her neighbors will help ease the pain of her own breakup. But as she begins to meet her new patrons, Neely’s perfect palate is repeatedly assaulted by the bitter flavor of anger — and she soon finds herself immersed in an unresolved story buried deep in Millcreek Valley’s past.

One of the things I love most about THE CAKE THERAPIST is the way the author weaves the modern narrative thread seamlessly with historical flashbacks. I’m often drawn to books that alternate between two different time periods, especially those in which a more contemporary actor works to unravel secrets hidden in the past. In the best versions of these books, both storylines are equally developed and engaging – but this is a really difficult feat to pull off. Judith not only manages it, but she also keeps the reader guessing through to the end. (I will digress for a moment and say that another author who is a master of this kind of book is Beatriz Williams, who I do not represent, but whose work I love unreservedly. And yes, I know I promised I would only offer two recommendations, but this is so tough!).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also highlight the luscious food writing in THE CAKE THERAPIST. Judith is a trained chef and a James Beard nominated cookbook author — and her culinary expertise very much shows on the pages of her novel. If you are someone who likes to eat dessert or read about it, then this book is for you! Just make sure you have treats on hand so you can snack along with the characters.

Crazy Rich AsiansCRAZY RICH ASIANS (the book I don’t represent)

CRAZY RICH ASIANS by Kevin Kwan is my next recommendation. When this novel was first released, several reviewers called it a cross between modern day Jane Austen and an over-the-top episode of Dynasty – and to me, this is a pretty spot-on, and totally enticing, description. The story introduces us to three mega-rich, hyper-pedigreed Chinese families based in Singapore and then offers a giddy account of the drama that ensues when the golden boy of the leading family brings his American-born Chinese girlfriend back home for the wedding of the year. CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a thinking person’s beach read on steroids. It is juicy and smart and fun and witty and nearly impossible to put down. And it is also genuinely hilarious. I don’t often laugh out loud when I’m reading, but I did with this book, and more than once. That alone sent me back for a second read.

And here again, if you are a lover of good food writing, this is a novel you shouldn’t miss. Singaporeans are obsessive about food culture, and in CRAZY RICH ASIANS that love is on full display. Kwan describes every meal in literally mouthwatering detail, making you long for a live version of each bite of chili crab, chicken rice and satay that appears on the page. I’m a huge fan of books that transport me to another place, time or dinner table — and CRAZY RICH ASIANS took me exactly where I wanted to go.

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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Summer Reading Series: Kim Wright

 

Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W

Today’s guest is Kim Wright, author of LOVE IN MIDAIR, THE UNEXPECTED WALTZ, and most recently, THE CANTERBURY SISTERS. We think you’ll resonate with the novels she has tucked in her beach bag this summer, and–if you’ve been keeping up with this series–you might notice that a trend is starting to develop.

Summer Reading Series

Louise Penny : THE NATURE OF THE BEAST

This mystery isn’t set to release until August, but I love Penny’s French Canadian series featuring Inspector Gamache and I’m already chomping at the bit. She deftly mixes police procedural, great characters, and a terrific small town setting. (Although I’ve got to say, it’s a bit like Murder She Wrote. For a small town in Quebec, Three Pines has A LOT of murders.) This particular installment is built around a kid who cries wolf, constantly telling stories about alien invasions and claiming he sees dinosaurs in the woods. Of course no one believes him, but when the child actually disappears, all the adults, especially Gamache, wish they’d paid closer attention to the boy’s wild tales. Maybe I love this concept because I was an “overimaginative” child myself!)

Susan Crandall: THE FLYING CIRCUS

Nothing beats a road trip story. When you take people out of their home towns, you also take them out of their comfort zones and ultimately out of themselves. Road trips shake us up and wake us up, and The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall sounds a whale of wild ride. It’s set in the 1920s, and involves three barnstormers who join ranks to tour the midwest doing airshows: Gil, a shellshocked WWI pilot with a barely-contained death wish, Cora, who was raised in a wealthy family whose fortune was lost, and Henry, a young German immigrant on the lam from the law. Needless to say, they all have secrets which could destroy their little makeshift family and ground the flying circus forever. I love this period of history, and the characters sound great.

Julia Cameron: THE ARTIST’S WAY

Okay, I’ll admit it. This is my tenth trip through the Artist Way program and I give this book a lot of credit for helping me create a successful life as a full-time artist. Cameron has built a whole franchise out of her Artist Way techniques, but the original book is still the greatest. It asks you to commit twelve weeks to enhancing your creativity, through reading the chapters, writing in a journal every day (aka the famous “morning pages”), and going out on weekly artist dates. For an artist date, you just do something fun and whimsical, designed to shake up your routine. Last trip through, I did the program with two friends and we rotated planning artist dates – stuff like going to see a Monet exhibit, taking an Indian cooking class, visiting the local raptor center, planting kitchen herb gardens, getting makeovers at the Estee Lauder counter. This time through I’m doing it with my daughter, who has recently had her first baby and feels like her creative mojo has gone missing. I suspect it will do us both a lot of good.

Maggie Shipstead: ASTONISH ME

What’s astonishing is that I’ve held off this long waiting for the paperback to come out, because Astonish Me is right up my alley in terms of subject matter. I’m a competitive ballroom dancer whose last book was called The Unexpected Waltz, and Astonish Me explores the world of ballet. The heroine, Joan, is a ballerina who helps a Russian dancer named Arsian defect during the seventies. Despite the fact they perform together and become lovers, Joan’s career never really takes off while Arsian becomes a star. She moves away and marries the proverbial nice guy, then has a child, but lost dreams have a way of haunting us, even when we’ve rebuilt a promising new life. Joan’s son grows up to be a dance prodigy and soon enough she’s pulled back into the world she left and back into the orbit of Arsian. Sounds like the book has glamour, sex, gossip and tutus – what more could a reader want?

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The Canterbury Sisters Cover ImageTHE CANTERBURY SISTERS

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime boyfriend abruptly dumped her, but, due to a hasty promise, she feels obligated to take her mother’s ashes to Canterbury Cathedral. Still woozy from the one-two punch of losing both her mother and her fiance, Che reluctantly embarks on the 42-mile walk from London to Canterbury with a tour group called The Broads Abroad. The women are an unlikely band of pilgrims but they – just like Chaucer’s characters in the original Canterbury Tales – swap stories as they walk, gradually growing closer and realizing that no woman is ever exactly as she seems.

 

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).

read more