Archive | Miscellaneous

What Makes A Book Southern?

Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W

Kim WrightI get asked this all the time at conferences and readings. If you’re described as a southern writer, like I so often am, people immediately come back with “But what does that really mean?” They expect a better answer than merely telling them you happened to be born south of the Mason-Dixon line.

And then there’s the question of “Why does it even matter anymore?” At one time this country may have had distinct regional sections but now, thanks to the Starbucksination of America, every town looks alike. We all have the same stores and restaurants. Not to mention, this is a society on the move with most people living lots of places in the course of their lifetimes. Is regional identity even a real thing anymore?

I’d have to say yeah, it still matters. Here’s why.

What makes a book southern has nothing to do with what it’s about. People say southerners write about family and faith and place and race, but all writers write about those things. The same themes have been pretty much circulating since novels came into being, no matter where or when they were written. But I think a book is “southern” not because of what it’s about, but more because of how it’s written.

True southerners have a rambling, conversational style that’s born out of an oral storytelling tradition. There’s a feeling of “Pull up your rocker and have some sweet tea, cause honey, I’ve got a whale of a story to tell you.” (Or, if it’s the new south, “Let’s sit down at the cafe table and order some wine. Maybe a bottle. This is good.”) There’s the sense that the author is right there with you, leaning over and practically whispering in your ear, that something is being confessed.

I love these kinds of stories. I grew up on them. My grandfather could take twenty minutes and rope in a cast of fifteen characters just to tell you about going to the grocery store. Southerners don’t mind gossip and they thrive on exaggeration. They use Biblical language, even if they’re not particularly religious. They understand the fine art of the spin.

So when people call me a southern writer, I wear the badge proudly. I take it to mean that my books sound like they’re being spoken more than they sound like they were written, and that’s a good thing. So let’s have one more glass of wine and you can tell me all about your day.

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Las Ride to GracelandLauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?

Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.

A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister’s daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.

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 Big Books Of Summer

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Summer usually means a new crop of novels from novelists we’ve all come to love– and their bestseller status shows it.  So, in case you’ve missed them, here are some of the big books of summer!

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the weekendersThe Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Others come only for the weekends-and the mix between the regulars and “the weekenders” can sometimes make the sparks fly. Riley Griggs has a season of good times with friends and family ahead of her on Belle Isle when things take an unexpected turn. While waiting for her husband to arrive on the ferry one Friday afternoon, Riley is confronted by a process server who thrusts papers into her hand. And her husband is nowhere to be found.

So she turns to her island friends for help and support, but it turns out that each of them has their own secrets, and the clock is ticking as the mystery deepens…in a murderous way. Cocktail parties aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.

Told with Mary Kay Andrews’ trademark blend of humor and warmth, and with characters and a setting that you can’t help but fall for, The Weekenders is the perfect summer escape.

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Here's to usHere’s To Us by Elin Hilderbrand

(Elin was our headliner at last year’s #ReadRaleigh event. This year we’ve got Liane Moriarty, who’s also got a new book coming out this summer! Look for Truly Madly Guilty in late July!)

Three romantic rivals. One crowded house. Plenty of room for jealousy.

Laurel Thorpe, Belinda Rowe, and Scarlett Oliver share only two things; a love for the man they all married, Deacon Thorpe–a celebrity chef with an insatiable appetite for life–and a passionate dislike of one another. All three are remarkable, spirited women, but they couldn’t be more different. Laurel: Deacon’s high school sweetheart and an effortlessly beautiful social worker; Belinda: a high-maintenance Hollywood diva; and Scarlett: a sexy southern belle floating by on her family money and her fabulous looks. They’ve established a delicate understanding over the years–they avoid each other at all costs.

But their fragile detente threatens to come crashing down after Deacon’s tragic death on his favorite place on earth: a ramshackle Nantucket summer cottage. Deacon’s final wish was for his makeshift family to assemble on his beloved Nantucket to say good-bye. Begrudgingly, Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett gather on the island as once again, as in each of their marriages, they’re left to pick up Deacon’s mess. Now they’re trapped in the crowded cottage where they all made their own memories–a house that they now share in more ways than one–along with the children they raised with Deacon, and his best friend. Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett each had an unbreakable bond with Deacon–and they all have secrets to hide.

Before the weekend is over, there are enough accusations, lies, tears, and drama to turn even the best of friends–let alone three women who married the same man–into adversaries. As his unlikely family says good-bye to the man who brought them together–for better or worse–will they be able to put aside their differences long enough to raise a glass in Deacon’s honor?

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fallingFalling by Jane Green

(A personal favorite of ours because she once wrote a post for us that has continues to be one of our most popular posts ever!!)

When Emma Montague left the strict confines of upper-crust British life for New York, she felt sure it would make her happy. Away from her parents and expectations, she felt liberated, throwing herself into Manhattan life replete with a high-paying job, a gorgeous apartment, and a string of successful boyfriends. But the cutthroat world of finance and relentless pursuit of more began to take its toll. This wasn’t the life she wanted either.

On the move again, Emma settles in the picturesque waterfront town of Westport, Connecticut, a world apart from both England and Manhattan. It is here that she begins to confront what it is she really wants from her life. With no job, and knowing only one person in town, she channels her passion for creating beautiful spaces into remaking the dilapidated cottage she rents from Dominic, a local handyman who lives next door with his six-year-old son.

Unlike any man Emma has ever known, Dominic is confident, grounded, and committed to being present for his son whose mother fled shortly after he was born. They become friends, and slowly much more, as Emma finds herself feeling at home in a way she never has before.

But just as they start to imagine a life together as a family, fate intervenes in the most shocking of ways. For the first time, Emma has to stay and fight for what she loves, for the truth she has discovered about herself, or risk losing it all.

In a novel of changing seasons, shifting lives, and selfless love, a story unfolds—of one woman’s far-reaching journey to discover who she is truly meant to be…

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first comes loveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.

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all summer longAll Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank

All Summer Long follows one charming New York couple – prominent interior designer Olivia Ritchie and her husband Nicholas Seymour, an English professor and true southern gentleman. They are seemingly polar opposites, yet magnetically drawn together and in love for more than fourteen years.

As they prepare to relocate to Charleston, S.C., Olivia, the ultimate New Yorker, has reservations about the promise she made to retire in the Lowcountry, where Nick wants to return home and lead a more peaceful life. They are moving north to south, fast pace versus slow pace and downsizing. Nick is ecstatic. Olivia is not. She can’t let Nick know that their finances are not what he thought. Her client list is evaporating, their monetary reserves are dwindling and maybe that house she picked out on Sullivans Island needs too much work. Thank God, for her assistant, Roni Larini, her right (and sometimes left) hand.

As they find themselves pondering the next step of their lives, Olivia and Nick travel with her billionaire clients and their friends and are swept up into the world of the ultra-rich and explore the globe with a cast of zany eccentrics over one tumultuous, hot summer. All as Olivia grapples with what lies ahead for her and Nick.

This is a story of how plans evolve and lives change in unexpected ways, how even those who have everything are still looking for something more. Even the most successful people can often struggle to keep things together. All Summer Long asks the ultimate question: can money buy happiness? From Sullivans Island to Necker Island to Nantucket to the beaches of Southern Spain, we’ll come to recognize the many faces of true love, love that deepens and endures but only because one woman makes a tremendous leap of faith. And that leap changes everything.

 

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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We’ve Got Your Beach Books Right Here

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

It’s beach season– which always means new beach books on the bookstore shelves. Today we have literal beach books, so there’s no mistaking the best place to read them! (We’d assert that a hammock in your backyard or poolside in your own neighborhood would do just fine as well.)

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Forever BeachForever Beach by Shelley Noble

One woman struggling to hold on to what she has,

One woman learning to forgive

Their lives entwined by one little girl.

Sarah Hargreave is anxious to finalize the adoption of her foster daughter Leila. Once a foster child herself, Sarah longs to become Leila’s “forever” family and give her all the love and stability she was denied in her own childhood. When Leila’s biological mother suddenly reappears and petitions the court for the return of her daughter, Sarah is terrified she’ll lose the little girl she loves to the drug addicted mother who abandoned her.

Having grown up in foster care, Ilona Cartwright fights for the rights of children who have no one to fight for them. But to Sarah she is Nonie Blanchard, who grew up in the same group foster home as Sarah. They’d promised to be best friends forever, then Nonie was adopted by a wealthy family, and Sarah never heard from her again. Sarah still hurts from the betrayal. But Nonie harbors her own resentment toward the past.

Mistrustful of each other, the two women form a tenuous alliance to ensure Leila’s future, but when Leila’s very survival is on the line, they’ll have to come to terms with their own feelings of hurt and rejection to save the child they both have come to love.

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Sunshine BeachSunshine Beach by Wendy Wax

There’s nothing that a fresh coat of paint and a few glasses of wine can’t fix…

After losing their life savings in a Ponzi scheme, Maddie, Avery, and Nikki have banded together to make the most of what they have left, using their determination, ingenuity, guts, and a large dose of elbow grease. It’s Maddie’s daughter Kyra who stumbles across a once glorious beachfront hotel that has fallen into disrepair. The opportunity to renovate this seaside jewel is too good to pass up—especially when they come up with the idea of shooting their own independent television show about the restoration. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. With the cameras rolling, Maddie’s second-chance romance with her all-too-famous new boyfriend gets complicated, Avery struggles with grief over the loss of her mother, and Nikki’s reluctance to commit to the man who loves her could leave her to face the biggest challenge of her life. Even the hotel seems to be against them, when their renovation uncovers a decades-old unsolved murder which just might bring their lives tumbling down all over again…

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Barefoot BeachBarefoot Beach by Toby Devens

The beach house carried some kind of spell, concocted of—I don’t know—salt air, sea grass and Old Bay seasoning that over the years had permeated its walls and floorboards. Whatever it was, the place cast fabulous magic.

For Nora Farrell, Tuckahoe, Maryland, isn’t just a summer refuge, it’s home—where she married the love of her life, decided to have a child, and has remained connected with her two closest friends. Even now, long after her husband’s passing, Nora reunites with Margo and Emine every June….

But this year, challenges invade the friends’ retreat. Even as Nora delights in teaching at her dance studio, she is shaken by the possible loss of her beach house…and by a tentative new romance. While Margo directs a musical at the Driftwood Playhouse, she finds her marriage on rocky ground. And Em, who relishes running her family’s café, struggles to handle her rebellious daughter.

With their personal dramas reaching a fever pitch, the women will discover that it isn’t only the beach that brightens their lives. Their bond with one another provides the ultimate magic.

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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An Amazing YA Summer– Four New Titles!

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

I’ve read so many great new Young Adult books lately that I couldn’t help but share more than one with you this month. Below, find books representing all of the best that summer has to offer: romance, music, adventure, and much more!

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Holding CourtHOLDING COURT by K.C. Held

Sixteen-year-old Jules Verity knows exactly what’s in store at her new job at castle-turned-dinner-theater Tudor Times. Some extra cash, wearing a fancy-pants dress, and plenty of time to secretly drool over the ever-so-tasty–and completely unavailable–Grayson Chandler. Except that it’s not quite what she imagined.

For one, the costume Jules has to wear is awful. Then there’s the dead body she finds that just kind of…well, disappears. Oh, and there’s the small issue of Jules and her episodes of what her best friend calls “Psychic Tourette’s Syndrome”–spontaneous and uncontrollable outbursts of seemingly absurd prophecies.

The only bright side? This whole dead body thing seems to have gotten Grayson’s attention. Except that the more Jules investigates, the more she discovers that Grayson’s interest might not be as courtly as she thought. In fact, it’s starting to look suspicious…

Why I love it: A YA romantic comedy mystery? Count. Me. In. The protagonist, Jules, is a fascinating, lovable, honest, and quirky character that I just couldn’t get enough of. Her seemingly random psychic blurting made me LOL more than once, and her love of Grayson Chandler’s abs created plenty of adorably awkward teenage crush moments. This reminded me of a fun, younger version of Psych (LOVED that show) set at a Medieval Times dinner theater, which might sound cheesy but is actually magically delicious.

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Tone DeafTONE DEAF by Olivia Rivers

Ali Collins was a child prodigy destined to become one of the greatest musicians of the twenty-first century—until she was diagnosed with a life-changing brain tumor. Now, at seventeen, Ali lives in a soundless world where she gets by with American Sign Language and lip-reading. She’s a constant disappointment to her father, a retired cop fighting his own demons, and the bruises are getting harder to hide.

When Ali accidentally wins a backstage tour with the chart-topping band Tone Deaf, she’s swept back into the world of music. Jace Beckett, the nineteen-year-old lead singer of the band, has a reputation. He’s a jerk and a player, and Ali wants nothing to do with him. But there’s more to Jace than the tabloids let on. When Jace notices Ali’s bruises and offers to help her escape to New York, Ali can’t turn down the chance at freedom and a fresh start. Soon she’s traveling cross-country, hidden away in Jace’s RV as the band finishes their nationwide tour. With the help of Jace, Ali sets out to reboot her life and rediscover the music she once loved.

Why I love it: I’ve never read anything quite like this before. Ali and Jace, with their experiences with music and the Deaf culture, were absolutely fascinating characters. I loved their connection. Ali is a great, strong, smart protagonist who I couldn’t help but cheer for all the way through. I’m also a fan of how skillfully the topic of abuse was woven into the story, bringing in a serious topic without making the whole story depressing.

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Little Black Dresses LITTLE BLACK DRESSES, LITTLE WHITE LIES by Laura Stampler

Harper Anderson always believed she belonged somewhere more glamorous than her sleepy Northern California suburb. After all, how many water polo matches and lame parties in Bobby McKittrick’s backyard can one girl take? That’s why Harper is beyond ecstatic when she lands her dream internship as a dating blogger at the elite teen magazine Shift. Getting to spend the summer in New York City to live her dream of becoming a writer? Harper’s totally in.

There’s just one teeny, tiny, infinitesimal problem: Apart from some dance floor make-outs, Harper doesn’t have a lot of – or, really, any – dating expertise. In fact, she might have sort of stolen her best friend’s experiences as her own on her Shift application. But she can learn on the job…right?

From awkward run-ins with the cute neighborhood dog-walker to terrifying encounters with her crazed editor, from Brooklyn gallery openings to weekends in the Hamptons, Harper finds out what it takes to make it in the Big City–and as the writer of her own destiny.

Why  I love it: Harper’s story, along with the characters, the pacing, and the settings are all spot on. Harper as a main character is relatable and flawed yet still totally likable, and I found her summer adventures to be just irresponsible enough to have fun without crossing the line into encouraging destructive behaviors. I also loved the ending and how Harper grew throughout the course of the story.

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Love & GelatoLOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept from Lina for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Why I love it: I have all the love in the world for well-written YA books involving an American teen traveling to a place I’d love to go. Through the journal that was left for her in Italy, Lina makes some new and strong connections to her mom, and she learns some truths about her father, which ultimately lead her to really understand and appreciate what family means. She also finds love and adventure throughout the summer, and the story is really just beautiful. It also left me with a serious desire to go to Italy… But I settled for making a feast of Italian food for my family.

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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An Overdue Tribute To Pat Conroy

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

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MARYBETH WHALEN

When I was 17 years old, I read a book called The Prince of Tides. Though I’d long been a reader I’m not sure any book had ever gripped me like this one had. I know it’s easy to say “I couldn’t put it down.” But I could not put it down. I read it behind my textbook in class, the boy I had a crush on leaning over to see what I was reading and asking “So, what’s that book about?”

I still remember totally forgetting to be cool around this boy as I gushed about all the many layers and nuances contained in this rich story world I had entered. I didn’t care. I was crushing on this book far more than I could even think of crushing on him. This author got it. This Pat Conroy. He got family dysfunction and undying love. He got the south and the people who live there. He got the melodic flow of language and the grip of a story well told.

Even though I had never met him he got… me.

Flash forward many years later. I’m at a literary event and he’s there. Serving readers food. Literally carrying the food to their tables and chatting them up as he did. He was warm and funny and gracious and self deprecating. He laughed a lot. I stood at a distance and watched, but was too tongue-tied and awestruck to approach him. When he died in March I saw myself there, standing in that doorway considering approaching him and chickening out instead. I chastised myself for not taking the chance when I had it. Here I was in front of my literary hero and… I blew it. And I always thought I’d just get another chance eventually. So the news of his death was sobering and saddening. I’d missed my chance forever.

So a few weeks ago when I heard that his beloved wife, Cassandra King Conroy, had organized a memorial for the public in his adopted hometown of Beaufort, I decided to go. Because this was a chance I was not going to miss. And though he wouldn’t actually be there, I sensed he would be there. And other people who felt like I did about him would be there. It was the closest I was ever going to get to making good on my missed opportunity. So I got in my car and drove the four hours Beaufort. It was on a whim, yet it felt like it had been determined long ago.

I went alone, and I sat alone, and I listened to every word of tribute spoken about this man who so impacted my life with his words. I took in the breathtaking view of the bay and the palm trees blowing in the breeze and the unbelievably blue sky and I understood that this was what he was writing about– the land, the words, the people, the stories. I laughed and I cried, and I paid my respects to him the only way I had left. Because it was something I could do. It was my way of saying thank you, of saying goodbye, of coming as close to him as I was ever going to get again this side of heaven.

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ARIEL LAWHON

Some authors are so revered that their names are whispered at literary events like an incantation. Authors who earn an “esque” after their names. Patchett-esque. Conroy-esque. Authors whose style is so unique, so mesmerizing that others emulate them for decades. The Kings and Queens of publishing as it were.

And I will never forget the day I first saw the reigning King and Queen of publishing in the flesh for the first time, or the regret I’ve held since that day. In October of 2014 I was invited to attend the Southern Festival of the Book here in Nashville. My debut novel had been published a few months earlier and it was the last event I was scheduled to attend. If I’m being totally honest, I was exhausted and wilted and tired of talking about myself and my book. So as I sat in the green room, waiting for my panel, I was a little subdued. And then heard THE GASP. When I looked up, Ann Patchett and Pat Conroy stood in the door, and fifty or so authors sat open-mouthed staring at them.

Here’s what you need to understand about me: if I am in awe of you, I will avoid you at all costs. I will not make eye contact or ask for your autograph. My absurd brain believes that the best way to show respect is to be the one person in a room not genuflecting. I will give you one less hand to shake. One less gushing compliment to deflect. I will leave you alone because I assume that you’re tired of the lines. This is unreasonable and I have no idea why I do it but it’s my default setting.

So I sat there, watching fifty authors rise to their feet and form two lines, and I settled deeper into my chair. A very flawed plan considering that within minutes I was the only person sitting. And three feet away, directly to my left, was Pat Conroy. But I dug in, determined.

The simple truth is that I froze. And it was awkward. And embarrassing. And obvious. I find myself in green rooms like that on occasion and at the time I thought I’d have another chance. I would rally and do better next time. But you know how this story ends and that second chance never came. If I could have done it all over again I would have gotten to my feet and shaken his hand. I would have told him what an honor it was to meet him. How staggered I am by his talent. I would have allowed myself to be in awe. He would have forgotten me instantly but I would have treasured the memory.

A memory that I never made because I’m an idiot.

Shake your hero’s hand. Give that gushing compliment. Send the email. Write the letter. Tell them that story in the signing line about how their novel changed your life or made you want to be a writer or helped you forgive your dad. They’ll understand. They do this because they know words are powerful and they want to hear that they have touched your life. Don’t be like me. Be a fan girl.

So when I woke on March 4th and learned of Pat Conroy’s passing I was devastated. But I instantly knew how to make amends. I decided to read through his entire body of work this year as penance for my stupidity. I already owned The Prince of Tides but I bought each of his other books on my book tour this spring and I am currently  immersing myself in Pat Conroy’s south. I’ve lived here for much of the last twenty years but I can honestly say I’ve never really understood it until now.

Thank you for that, Mr. Conroy. It has been an unexpected gift. And I’m sorry that I don’t have the sense God gave a rock. I hope we get the chance to laugh about that one day on the other side of eternity.

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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On Motherhood and Writing, Because Both Are Tricky (And Wonderful)

Today’s post by debut novelist Joy Calloway | @JoyWCal

Today we’re visiting with Joy Calloway, author of THE FIFTH AVENUE ARTIST’S SOCIETY, and one of our featured authors this summer. She’s sharing a bit about her writing routine and this is something we’re always fascinated by, no matter the circumstances. Let us know if you can relate to her story!

Joy Calloway

Joy Calloway

I started writing novels before I had kids—about two years before—and was honestly terrified about how my daughter, now two and a half, and then my son, eleven months, would change my routine and my writing. It’s a common fear, I think, to wonder how a child will turn your life, because inevitably becoming a mother does change you.

Over the past years, I’ve had quite a few expectant authors ask me how motherhood changed my work, and I could feel the hope and fear in the question. I remember wondering the same, fretting about the time I knew I’d lose. I thought I needed hours each day to work out scenes in my head, hours to dream up my characters’ every quirk, hours to rework one sentence over and over until it was perfect. How could I possibly be a writer if I didn’t have time to let inspiration spark and flame? How would I be able to work when I didn’t have the luxury of spending a full day lost in my novel?

I had a good routine pre-children. I would sit down after working my day job as a marketer and write until my brain turned to mush. I would take snack breaks and make tea (The Fifth Avenue Artists Society was written in a haze of too much late night Lady Grey tea, tubs of peanut butter filled pretzels, and Sour Patch Kids); I’d walk my block and think things through. When I got pregnant, I worried that having my baby girl would mark the end of my writing, or at least a years-long break, because I knew that I’d put my dreams on hold for my kids if it came to it. Without a doubt, I knew they’d be the most important treasures of my life, and I wasn’t wrong about that, but I was most certainly mistaken about motherhood pausing my dreams.

Motherhood didn’t stifle me. It didn’t snuff out my writing like I’d predicted. In fact, becoming a parent made me more efficient. I’ve always been between a plotter and pantster, and that hasn’t changed, though I do appreciate my rough outline. The moment I put my kids down for a nap, I grab a cup of coffee and it’s go time. I know I have between an hour and a half and two hours to write, so I try to skim over my outline in the morning if I’ve been able to finish a scene the day before or at least read the last paragraph I wrote to jog my memory about what I’ll be writing that day. That way, the instant I sit down at the computer, I’m ready to start typing.

Some days are better than others, some days I’m inspired and some days I’m not, but that’s just life. The biggest thing is that I’m writing. Since my kids were born, I’ve finished three manuscripts. They’re not remotely perfect. They need editing and polishing and maybe major rewriting, but that’s okay because they’re a testament to the fact that I’m still doing what I love—and I challenge you all to do the same. Maybe you’re not a writer. Maybe you’re a crafter or a baker or an accountant or a teacher. Regardless, you’re telling stories to your kids by your passion, letting them know that it’s important to let your dreams live with you your whole life long—just like the women who inspired my characters in The Fifth Avenue Artists Society.

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The Fifth Avenue Artists SocietyThe Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her—until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

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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Quick Lit For June

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

Here’s what we’ve been reading lately– some for research, some for encouragement, and some just for fun!

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MB Reads

What Marybeth Is Reading Right Now

It’s Ok To Laugh by Nora McInerny Purport: Two words to sum up this memoir– ugly cry. I had to go into my bathroom where my kids wouldn’t say, “Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you retching and heaving after reading that innocuous looking book?” Okay, that’s not what they would’ve said but that’s what I was doing. Nora McInerny Purmort has crafted one of the rawest, most compelling memoirs of loss and living after it I’ve ever experienced. And to read it was truly an experience. It’s going to be one of my top books of this year for sure.

Truly, Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: This one’s not available yet but go ahead and put it on your radar (July 26, 2016). Because it’s yet another fine example of Liane Moriarty doing what she does best– revealing the complexities of life in suburbia, and digging into the interior lives of a bunch of ordinary people even as their exterior lives take many twists and turns. This hefty tome is nearly 500 pages, but I  enjoyed every one of them. And also?? She’s going to be our headliner at #ReadSavannah in September!! If you can wait that long I’d say buy a copy there and have her sign it. Even better. Here’s how to register for the event– we hope to see you there!

Me and My Baby View The Eclipse by Lee Smith: I listened to this one on audio because sometimes it’s good to go back to your reading roots. Lee Smith was hugely influential on me as a writer and as a reader. I discovered her when I was 15 and some of my dad’s renters moved out and left a huge box of books behind. (Can you imagine? It was a travesty leaving books behind like that!) But their dumb move was my gain because, knowing I was a reader (understatement), he gave them to me. Her novel Black Mountain Breakdown was in that box, and that was the beginning of my lifelong fandom of Lee Smith. Going back and hearing these stories was nostalgic and satisfying, and made me remember why I love her writing so.

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What Ariel Is Reading Right Now

Listen, I’ just going to say it now: I have too many books open at the moment. Some of these I’ve read and some are in progress but there’s a reason that I’ve committed to each of them. It’s also worth noting that I picked up every book in this first set because I was drawn to the cover. They all have this mesmerizing feel about them. Magical even. I dig it. Further proof that I do judge books by their covers and I’m not sorry about that.

Cool Covers

Two If By Sea by Jacquelyn Mitchard. I don’t know how to say it other than this: Jacquelyn Mitchard’s new novel cured an almost year-long reading slump for me. I loved this novel wholeheartedly. It’s about a man named Frank Mercy who rescues a young boy with extraordinary gifts and then goes to great lengths to protect him. It’s about fatherhood and loss and falling in love after profound tragedy. It’s about believing the unbelievable and standing in the gap to protect those who can’t protect themselves. This was my first Mitchard novel and I had no idea what to expect but I now understand why so many people adore her. I found it long (in a good way) and smooth and I actually dreamed about these characters while reading. I loved this book so much, in fact, that I wrote Jacquelyn afterward to thank her. And then she wrote back. And I flopped around and died of happy.

The 100 Year Miracle by Ashley Ream. I started this one last night and I have high hopes for it. It’s about a natural phenomena that occurs off the coast of Washington state once every one hundred years and the handful of people who desperately need the miracle it provides. I need the magical and the miraculous in my life right now and I can’t wait to report back. If the first chapter is any indication, this novel is going to be a big winner with me. I’ve written here before about how I always know if I’ll love a book by the time I finish the first chapter.

Progeny by Tosca Lee. This was the first book in ages that I’ve read in a single day. I just usually don’t have the time, no matter how much I love a book. There are always things to be done and people to collect and words to write. But this novel found me on a day when I wasn’t feeling great and I laid on the couch and read it cover to cover. We’ve all heard that somewhat creepy expression “bathing in the blood of virgins.” Well this novel is about the descendants of Elizabeth Bathory, the woman who, according to legend, did just that. It’s a little bit YA, a little bit magical realism, and whole lot thriller. I inhaled it.

Red Books

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Yes, I’m the one person on earth who didn’t read this book when it published a few years ago. The fact is that I’m stubborn and sometimes I don’t read a book simply because everyone else is reading it and I want to be contrary. I don’t like being told what to do. But I’ve wanted to read it all along and I’ve held out long enough. So with the movie releasing I thought it would be the perfect time. I’m just a few chapters from the end and I absolutely love it. I get it now. You win, Jojo. Well done, girl.

Six Years by Harlan Coben. I’ve held on to this advanced release copy since it came in the mail two (three?) years ago. This is my first Coben novel and I’m really curious to see if this is my jam. I have a feeling it will be.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. I’m on a thriller kick at the moment and I’m reading this one because my agent absolutely adores Chris Pavone. She told me I had to read it and I do whatever she tells me. The end.

Romanov Research

These three are all on deck as research for my new novel. Combined they probably run eleventy-billion pages and cover three hundred years worth of history. If I can’t speak in complete sentences for the next six months this is why. Pray for me.

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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Orlando, We Are Sorry For Your Loss

Orlando

Dear Orlando, Marybeth and I met in your city eight years ago. It was a fluke thing that has turned into an epic friendship and we think of you with great fondness. She Reads exists, in no small part, because of you. What happened on your streets this weekend was a horrible act of evil and we are praying for you and for all of those who wake today with broken hearts. We don’t use that word–prayer–lightly. And we are not ashamed of it. We pray because it matters, because it is powerful, and because it can change this broken world. We are truly sorry for your loss.

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 Danger In Writing About Real People

Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W

Kim WrightThe weird thing is I never set out to write a book about Elvis Presley. LAST RIDE TO GRACELAND was just one of those stories that came to me fast and fully formed and when a writer is lucky enough to get that kind of inspiration, believe me, she doesn’t fight it.

It all started when I was lying in bed one Sunday morning looking at newspaper headlines and one just leapt out at me: LAST RIDE TO GRACELAND.

The article was about how the car that Elvis Presley drove on the last day of his life — a big shiny muscle car called a Stutz Blackhawk — was finally being taken out of mothballs and put on display in Graceland. But first it was being taken to my hometown of Charlotte NC, where it was going to be restored to top circa-1977 condition by one of the NASCAR museum specialists. The guy said that when he unwrapped the car and opened the door that it was “like opening a time capsule.”

That was all it took to get my imagination going.   I sat there in bed and wildly scribbled out a premise: I imagined that the car was found not at Graceland, but rather in an abandoned fishing shed in South Carolina and that the discoverer was a down-on-her-luck blues singer named Cory Beth Ainsworth. Cory Beth’s recently deceased mother, Honey, had briefly been a back-up singer for Elvis in her youth but had always refused to talk about her single year at Graceland — including why she had abruptly fled Memphis in the summer of 1977 and returned home to marry her high school sweetheart. Cory Beth was born seven months later and because of the timing, coupled with the gospel grit of her voice, she has always fantasized that she’s the illegitimate daughter of the King himself. So Cory Beth decides to dig out the car and return it to Graceland, hoping to gather some long-awaited answers along the way.

But of course an idea only takes you so far. I needed research, so six weeks later I was on the road, actually driving the route I’d imagined Cory Beth would take, this meandering trip through the deep south, from Beaufort, SC to Memphis, with lots of stops along the way.

It’s a bit dangerous to write fiction about a real person, especially one as beloved as Elvis Presley and especially one who died fairly recently. After all, if you write about Julius Caesar it’s not like his relatives are going to come crawling out of the woodwork saying “That’s not what really happened.” A lot of people, including me, remember where they were on the day that Elvis died and are protective of their memories. I just have to trust that they accept that this is a work of fiction, one woman’s imaginings about how the last days of Graceland went down, and that the book was written in total respect for Elvis and his talent.

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Las Ride to GracelandLauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?

Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.

A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister’s daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.

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 Book Club Selections

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

Summer Collage 2

Summer has always been synonymous with reading. Those long, lazy days with book in hand feel so decadent. There is a certain giddy delight that comes with reading outside, a sense that time has been suspended, that everything is on hold, breath held in honor of the stories unfolding before us. We try to capture that joy every time we choose our book club selections but we reach a little harder at this time of year because we want you to be carried away, transported, even if you can’t go away for vacation. We want you to feel as though you’ve been somewhere else. That is what summer is about, after all. So, for our summer book club selections, we’ve chosen three very different, captivating novels. Over the next few months you will survive a plane crash, take an epic Southern road trip all the way to Graceland, and fall in love in old New York. That, my friends, is a summer worth talking about!

Enjoy! And let us know if you plan to read any (or, hopefully, all!) of these novels between now and August!

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Before the FallBEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley

From the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show Fargo comes the thriller of the year.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Read an excerpt of BEFORE THE FALL here.

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Las Ride to GracelandLAST RIDE TO GRACELAND by Kim Wright

Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?

Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.

A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister’s daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.

Read an excerpt of LAST RIDE TO GRACELAND here.

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The Fifth Avenue Artists SocietyTHE FIFTH AVENUE ARTIST’S SOCIETY by Joy Calloway

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her—until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

Read an excerpt of THE FIFTH AVENUE ARTISTS SOCIETY here.

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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).

read more