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Author to Author: The Storms Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

Welcome back to part two of our “storms” interview series with Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Up today, Tiffany interviews Vanessa about her novel UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to add both novels to your “to read” list.

Storms Collage

Vanessa says: I didn’t know what to expect from this exercise, but it’s been so interesting and enjoyable. Tiffany’s book and mine share so many elements, it’s spooky, although they’re different genres and time periods. It’s been fascinating to talk to another author about choices and background. Her questions made me think about things in new ways and reading her book gave me new insights into my own. What a great format!

Tiffany: Your novel takes place during a terrible hurricane in Florida in 1935 and it’s based on an actual event. Racial injustice and class divisions are magnified as the storm hits. I’d like to imagine things would be different today, but I couldn’t help but see parallels to the situation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina some 70 years later. Was that something you thought about while you were writing this book?

Vanessa: One of the attractions for me was the relevance of the ‘historical’ events of 1935 to today. Even with all the advances in hurricane tracking technology, a storm like Katrina can still pound the life out of one of our major cities. It’s still the case that survival depends as much on human decision-making as technology. Complacency is deadly in these situations, but the storms behave erratically and evacuations are difficult and costly. Equally, we’d like to think that there has been progress in the rehabilitation of veterans, and there has. Despite this, every day in America approximately 22 former service personnel commit suicide. And when we come to look at improvements in race relations, recent events show how much progress is still to be made. So although I was telling a story from 80 years ago, in many ways it felt very current.

Tiffany: Your book has a large cast of characters, which you manage beautifully. I grew to love many of the characters in your story—Missy the nanny, Henry the war hero, and Doc the traumatized medic, for sure—and I grew to hate a few, as well. But more than just knowing the individual characters, I learned the character of Heron Key, the fictional town where the story takes place. Did you set out to write a novel with a strong sense of place or was it a function of this particular story?

Vanessa: I wouldn’t say that I set out with that intention. I never imagined that I would write a novel set in Florida. My two books of women’s fiction were set in Britain! But once I started writing, it was like finding a huge time capsule in a dusty attic. All my childhood memories came pouring out, straight from my brain to the page, all the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of Florida. The book turned into a kind of love letter to my home state, much to my surprise. I haven’t lived there for 35 years, but I guess it’s still home, in some ways. But I really believe that I could not have written the book without the perspective and clarity gained from living far away all these years.

Tiffany: In addition to the hurricane, your characters encounter all kinds of violence. A terrifying incident with an alligator early in the book lets us know this is a dangerous place. Yet the worst violence comes at the hands of people. It seems to me the difference between violence in nature and violence in men is that men act with motivation. Nature just is. I found myself thinking about the motivations of the characters who set violent acts in motion in your novel. Some characters were careless, others malicious, others just ignorant. Do you feel like indifference is worse than hatred or better? Is it the same?

Vanessa: Very interesting question. You have to care deeply about someone to hate them. Hatred requires a big commitment of emotion, whereas indifference is the opposite. Just like cold and hot can be mistaken for each other at the extremes, so love and hate can be confused. You hear sometimes that intense love affairs can almost feel like hatred of the other person because the emotion is so consuming. Hatred is a bond, even if it’s malign. Indifference is nothing, it’s a vacuum of emotion, it’s the emptiness, the void. Indifference makes the other person invisible. So I guess that I would say, yes, it is worse than hatred because there is no connection at all. And without that connection, unspeakable things can become normal.

Tiffany: Your book ends with an Epilogue that takes place some time after the main events of the story. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but I wonder if you could talk about your decision to write the ending that way. I was fully prepared to be left with a lot more questions, and found myself so grateful that you addressed the fates of some of the larger characters. Was that something you’d always planned to do? Or was it something you came to after writing the main story?

Vanessa: Endings are so hard! Although I had decided on all the fates of the characters, when I got to the final scene of destruction it seemed wrong to leave it there. Most readers have shared your opinion, that they were glad to have the Epilogue. I didn’t decide to write it until I had finished writing the main story. I had a lot of factual material about the clean-up after the storm, but it was so grim, and there had been enough grimness already. So I decided to skip to a point in time where the town was getting back on its feet, but still with a long way to go. Maybe it’s sentimental, but I wanted to end on a hopeful note. And it mirrors the opening of the book. At the beginning, we see all the characters preparing for the barbecue. In the Epilogue, they are preparing for the unveiling of the monument. I liked the symmetry of that. And, having asked the reader to invest time in caring about the characters, I felt an obligation to show what happened to them.

* * *

Under A Dark Summer SkyUnder a Dark Summer Sky is a stunning debut novel, at once a love story set in a time of great turmoil and a vivid depiction of a major natural disaster.

Florida, 1935. In Heron Key, relationships are as tangled as the swamp’s mangrove roots. It’s been eighteen long years since Henry went away to war. Still, Missy has waited, cleaning the Kincaids’ house and counting the stars. Now he’s back, but she barely recognizes the desperate, destitute veteran he’s become ― unsure of his future, ashamed of his past. When a white woman is found beaten nearly to death after the Fourth of July barbecue, suspicion falls on him immediately. As tensions rise in the small community, the barometer starts to plummet ― a massive hurricane is on its way.

Based on real historical events,Under a Dark Summer Sky evokes what happens when people, sweating under the weight of their pasts, are tested to the absolute limits of their endurance.

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: The Storms Edition, Part One

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

We’re thrilled to have Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye on the blog today as they discuss their novels, THREE RIVERS and UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. Both books take place in the South and center around storms that dramatically change the lives of their characters. Enjoy the interview because we’re certain you’ll enjoy the books!

Storms Collage

Tiffany says: I’m gobsmacked by the similarities between Vanessa’s book and my own. The stories are completely different, but there are so many common details. In talking with Vanessa, the reasons for that became clearer. We both grew up in the South, but neither of us wanted to live out our lives there and we haven’t. Even so, we both have a complicated affection for the South. Probably that has something to do with the fruit cobbler, which makes an appearance in both our novels. You cannot turn your back on a place that offers up such good food. Here’s hoping Vanessa and I will trade stories over a hot, bubbling cobbler someday soon. I’ll bring ice cream.

Vanessa: Melody, your main character, has the most bad blood with her mother, Geneva, who is a piece of work!  We see a lot of tenderness with her father, who was no Boy Scout either, but only memories of Geneva.  Do you feel that there is hope for her and Geneva?  Were you tempted to show us the big confrontation between them?  Or is that for us to imagine?

Tiffany: I think there is always hope, but I don’t imagine Geneva and Melody ever having a very warm relationship. By the end of the story, they understand each other a little better. There is more compassion. As for a big confrontation, I think the content of any potential confrontation was revealed over the course of the book and I didn’t want to revisit it in dialogue. I do believe the reader can imagine how such a confrontation might go in the future, but it didn’t feel like part of this story.

Vanessa: Would you describe yourself as a Southern writer, or someone who writes about the South?  And do you intend to set other books there, or was it more about the story than the setting? Do you feel part of the ‘Southern novel’ tradition (whatever that is)?

Tiffany: I left Mississippi when I was just 21, but I can’t seem to stop writing about it. In some ways, I think it’s easier to write about a place when you’ve left it behind. Distance provides perspective. The South is a place with such a fraught history, but also a place with tremendous pride in things like tradition and heritage. Southerners like to put forth this image of being pious and genteel, but there’s an awful lot of violence and corruption and coarseness on display. Those contradictions are interesting and make for good storytelling. Ultimately, though, I don’t think about any of that when I sit down to write. The stories I have to tell just seem to spring up in Southern settings and characters. Maybe that’s what makes a Southern writer. If so, I’d definitely consider myself part of that tradition.

Vanessa: I get asked a lot about my experience of hurricanes, so I’m going to ask you about floods. Have you ever experienced a major natural disaster?  How much of the flood was drawn from life, and how much from research?

Tiffany: Yes, though the flood in the book is purely fictional and is much, much worse than anything I’ve experienced first-hand. Bad weather and terrible storms are a fact of life in Mississippi and in the South in general. Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi the year I was born. Tornadoes destroyed a shopping center and numerous homes in our neighborhood in Jackson. There was tremendous wind and water damage. My mother said she sat in the hallway of our home holding her brand new baby (me!) and willing it to be over. When I was about 10, the Pearl River flooded Jackson on Easter weekend. My cousins were in the path of the worst flooding and so they came to our house to ride out the storm. We hunted eggs indoors that year. It was weirdly festive.

When I was about 20 and working as a reporter for the local paper in Greenwood, Mississippi, there was a terrible flood in the Delta. I was out of town covering a change-of-venue trial. By the time I got back to Greenwood, the roads were mostly clear, but there was still standing water in the fields. I went straight from sitting in a courthouse all day to traipsing around in floodwaters shooting photos of half-submerged churches. Some scenes in the book are pulled from those memories.

Vanessa: I like that you don’t tidy up all the story lines at the end.  I kept wondering about what would happen next with Melody and Obi, the drifter on the run, and Melody and Geneva.  Did you leave the door open for a sequel?  Or is this just because life isn’t tidy and we don’t get all the answers we want?

Tiffany: I’m not planning a sequel. Life isn’t tidy, and I don’t think every question can or should be answered in the course of a novel. However, I did work to answer the big questions, the truly fateful ones. I didn’t want the reader wondering about whether someone lived or died, but I’m okay if they are left to wonder about someone’s ultimate happiness. This story really takes place over the course of three days. There are plenty of memories on the page; the past is revealed, but the future is uncertain. Life is like that, I think.

Vanessa: What is the significance of 1990 for the setting of the book?  Does it have a special meaning for you, or the characters?  It seems like a very specific choice.

Tiffany: It was important for the reader to know we were in a world before cell phones were ubiquitous, before everyone had computers in their homes. My characters don’t have access to the Internet. They aren’t getting storm alerts from gadgets in their pockets. Really, it was not so long ago that someone might be surprised by the weather. It seems impossible today. I chose 1990 specifically because that’s the year I lived in the particular area where the novel is set. That year resonates with me in this setting.

* * *

Three RiversA massive storm was coming straight for Mama’s little plot of land in the Mississippi Delta and there was no way any of them could outrun the weather.

For three years Melody Mahaffey has been on the road, touring as a keyboardist with a terrible Christian pop band she can hardly stand. So when her mother calls, full of her usual dire news and dramatic pronouncements, Melody is relieved to pack her bags and call it quits. But at the sprawling, defunct Three Rivers Farm her family calls home, Melody is shocked to discover her father is dying. Even worse, her mother has abandoned the family, leaving Melody the sole caretaker of her father and brain-damaged brother. Sure that her daughter will do the right thing, Geneva leaves to seek spiritual guidance and break things off with her long-time lover.

Rain begins to fall and an epic flood threatens the Mississippi Delta. While Melody tries to get a handle on the chaos at home, a man and his little boy squat on her land, escaping their own nightmare. Obi is on the run from a horrific mistake, and he’s intent on keeping his son with him at any cost. When the storm arrives, though, they have no choice but to take shelter in Melody’s house. And the waters just keep rising.

A lifetime of lies, misunderstandings and dark secrets bubble to the surface as the flood destroys the land and threatens their lives. Set against the fertile but dangerous landscape of the rural south near the fictional town of White Forest, Mississippi, Three Rivers beautifully weaves together three parallel stories, told over three days, as each character is propelled headlong into the storm.

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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Foodie Fiction Roundup

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

Are you hungry for a good story? (Sorry… couldn’t resist.) We’ve got some novels that are sure to fill you right up!

The Coincidence of Coconut CakeTHE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE by Amy E Reichert

You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

The Art of Baking BlindTHE ART OF BAKING BLIND by Sarah Vaughan

There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved. 

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There’s Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife’s death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it’s like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn’t slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants’ problems. For they will learn–as as Mrs. Eaden did before them–that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it’s very much harder in life.

Reservations for TwoRESERVATIONS FOR TWO by Hillary Manton Lodge

Food writer-turned-restaurateur Juliette D’Alisa has more than enough on her plate. While her trip to Provence might have unlocked new answers to her grandmother’s past, it’s also provided new complications in the form of Neil McLaren, the man she can’t give up.

Juliette and Neil find romance simple as they travel through Provence and Tuscany together, but life back home presents a different set of challenges. Juliette has a restaurant to open, a mother combating serious illness, and a family legacy of secrets to untangle – how does Neil, living so far away in Memphis, fit into to her life?

As she confronts an uncertain future, Juliette can’t help but wish that life could be as straightforward as her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can her French grandmother’s letters from the 1940’s provide wisdom to guide her present? Or will every new insight create a fresh batch of mysteries?

The Cake TherapistTHE CAKE THERAPIST by Judith Fertig

Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.

Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.

Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself.

Recipe for DiasasterRECIPE FOR DISASTER by Stacey Ballis

To an outside observer, Anneke Stroudt is a mess—her shirts are stained, her fingernails stubby, her language colorful. But, despite her flaws, Anneke’s life is close to perfect. She has a beautiful historic house to restore and a loving fiancé who cooks like a dream.
Until Anneke’s charmed existence falls apart when she loses both her job and her future husband in one terrible day. In need of a new start, she packs up her disgruntled schnauzer and moves into her half-finished home, where she throws her pent-up frustration—and what little savings she has—into finishing the renovation.

But at the first step into the house’s overhaul, Anneke is sidetracked when she discovers a mysterious leather-bound book, long hidden away, filled with tempting recipes and steamy secrets from Gemma Ditmore-Smythe, the cook for the house’s original owners. Slowly, with the help of some delicious food and Emma’s life lessons, Anneke begins to realize that, just like a flawless recipe, she’s been waiting for the right ingredients to cook up a perfect life all along…

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: Marybeth Whalen

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

Though my TBR list is oh so much longer than this, I didn’t want to overwhelm you, dear readers. So I randomly chose some titles that stood out to me as ones I’m particularly looking forward to reading by the pool, lake, or ocean this summer.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica:

I loved The Good Girl, and I expect to love this one too. Nothing fills a day by the water faster than a good page turner.

IMG_0406She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows:

There is just something sweet about the premise of this novel– something that makes me think this story will go down as smooth as a nice cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day.

IMG_0407In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan:

I am a huge fan of stories that involve a main character learning to balance family life. Perhaps it is because that’s what I try to do every day and these stories make me see I’m not the only one?? Whatever the reason, I look forward to diving into this one.

IMG_0408In A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor, and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers—an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life—seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up, and her work takes an unexpected turn. Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she—Alice Pearse—really want?

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis:

You have to have your requisite beach read in the pile, and this is the one that’s beckoning to me the loudest this summer.

IMG_0405Cape Cod summers are supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but everything falls apart when three sisters and their families come together for their annual summer vacation—and they are carrying more secrets than suitcases.

Maggie is the oldest. She feels responsible for managing the summer house and making sure everything is as it always has been. But she’s hurt that her parents’ recent divorce has destroyed the family’s comfortable summer routines, and her own kids seem to be growing up at high speed. Is it too late to have another baby?

Jess is the middle sister. She loves her job but isn’t as passionate about her marriage. She’s not sure she can find the courage to tell Maggie what she’s done—much less talk to her husband about it.

Virgie is the youngest, her dad’s favorite. She’s always been the career girl, but now there’s a man in her life. Her television job on the west coast is beyond stressful, and it’s taking its toll on her—emotionally and physically. She’s counting on this vacation to erase the symptoms she’s not talking about.

The Herington girls are together again, with their husbands and kids, for another summer in the family’s old Cape Cod house. When their mother, Gloria, announces she’s coming for an unscheduled visit—with her new boyfriend—no one is more surprised than their father, Arthur, who has not quite gotten over his divorce. Still, everyone manages to navigate the challenges of living grown-up lives in close quarters, until an accident reveals a new secret that brings everyone together in heartbreak…and then healing.

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand:

It’s just not summer without an Elin Hilderbrand inspired mental vacation to Nantucket. I’m hoping to actually get there one of these days, but for now I will satisfy myself with her enthralling “almost as good as the real thing” books.

IMG_0404Nantucket writer Madeline King couldn’t have picked a worse time to have writer’s block. Her deadline is looming, her bills are piling up, and inspiration is in short supply. Madeline’s best friend Grace, is hard at work transforming her garden into the envy of the island with the help of a ruggedly handsome landscape architect. Before she realizes it, Grace is on the verge of a decision that will irrevocably change her life. Could Grace’s crisis be Madeline’s salvation? As the gossip escalates, and the summer’s explosive events come to a head, Grace and Madeline try desperately to set the record straight–but the truth might be even worse than rumor has it.

 

 

 

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About Marybeth’s novels:

Marybeth Collage

Marybeth’s most recent novel is THE BRIDGE TENDER, a surprising love story set in her favorite location, Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina―this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be. Seven years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.

Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.

Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.

Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of the locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life―and new love―that her lost love made possible.

 

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: Pamela Moses

Today’s post by Pamela Moses

Today’s guest is Pamela Moses, author of THE APPETITES OF GIRLS. We think her theory on the power of summer reading (as well as her summer reading list) is rather profound. There is nothing like a novel you fall in love with during a warm dreamy days afternoon we hope you find at least one book this summer that you will love for the rest of your life.

Summer Reading Series

When the honeysuckle blooms near my house in early June, I am ten years old again, having lost myself completely in ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite books of girlhood. I can still hear the neighbor’s mower buzzing in the distance and the lazy insects tapping against my window screens. I can feel the humid air that has settled over me like a blanket as I sprawl across my bed. A great book, no matter where or when we read it, draws us into the imagined world it creates, but the books I have read during the long, languorous days of summer often stay with me in a different way: I remember not only the book itself but the very experience of reading it. Perhaps something opens in us in summertime: the cares of busier seasons diminish, allowing everything that is magical in this world—the chatter of birds in early morning, the dance of moonlight on the ocean, the ache of reaching the final chapters of a beloved book—to fill us more completely.

This summer Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN will be released. I remember first reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in the summer after seventh grade, most of it in our backyard hammock under the shade of two large oaks. I was captivated by Scout and by Lee’s writing, so what a treat it will be to fall under Lee’s spell once again in this pseudo-sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

I also look forward, this summer, to reading Alyson Richman’s novella, A SPLENDID GIFT. I have always loved THE LITTLE PRINCE, so this imagined tale of its author and his romantic affair intrigues me. Besides, summer reading should always include a good love story!

Recently I began Anthony Doerr’s gorgeously written ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and in the coming weeks I will be savoring the remainder of this novel set during World War II. There is so much any writer of fiction can learn from Doerr’s brilliant storytelling, so the unhurried days of summer are the perfect time for making my way slowly through this book, allowing myself to linger over sentences and reread sections as I go.

I will likely return to Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN before summer’s end. It is a play I adore and revisit again and again. The earnestness of its characters and the play’s reminder to cherish what is beautiful and ephemeral in this life always makes me a little teary. And life as it is lived in Grover’s Corners in the early 1900’s seems a bit closer to home with the slower rhythm of summertime.

These books and others will be packed with me for the beach or read under the shady limbs of a good tree. In some way, they will become a part of me, and perhaps the memories of reading them in the warm months of summer will stay with me for years to come.

* * *

The Appetites of GirlsFor the audience that made Commencement a New York Times bestseller comes a novel about women making their way in the world.

Four young women are thrown together as roommates freshman year in college: Ruth, Francesca, Opal, and Setsu. Each is striving to overcome struggles from childhood and find her true self.

Tormented by self-doubt, Ruth is coddled by her immigrant mother, who uses food to soothe and control her. Defiant Francesca believes her heavy frame shames her Park Avenue family; to provoke them, and to protect herself, she consumes everything in sight. Opal longs to be included in her glamorous, adventure-seeking mother’s dinner dates—until a disturbing encounter forever changes her desires. Finally, Setsu, a promising violinist, staves off conflict with her jealous older brother by allowing him to take away the choicest morsels from her plate—and from her future.

As their stories and appetites collide, these women make a pact to maintain their friendships into adulthood—but each must first find strength and her way in the world.

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: Chevy Stevens

Today’s post by bestselling author, Chevy Stevens | @ChevyStevens

Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Chevy Stevens. She’s the author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, ALWAYS WATCHING, THAT NIGHT (a She Reads book club selection), and fifth and newly released novel, THOSE GIRLS. We loved taking a peek inside Chevy’s beach bag. And we think you will agree that her summer reading is on point.

Summer Reading Series

I have a few books that have been waiting for me on my Kindle and I’m hoping to read them this summer during my annual family camping trip to Quadra Island, in British Columbia, Canada.

First up is GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I’ve heard great things but haven’t had time to read much more than the first couple of chapters, which were very intriguing.

I also want to finish FAMILY HISTORY by Dani Shapiro. I recently read her memoir SLOW MOTION and her book STILL WRITING and love her emotionally rich style.

I enjoy memoirs and devoured BORN WITH TEETH by Kate Mulgrew (aka Red on Orange is the New Black). It’s very well-written and fascinating.

Along those lines, I also finished JUST KIDS, Patti Smith’s book about her involvement with Robert Mapplethorpe, a famous artist who died of AIDS in the late eighties. It’s an intimate look into their love, loyalty, and friendship, spanning decades. It was very interesting to read about the art and musical scene of the sixties and seventies.

I also like anything that inspires me so I am hoping to read THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp.

And for fun, I want to read CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND by Kevin Kwan because I read CRAZY RICH ASIANS when it came out and it was the perfect beach read: decadent, funny, and romantic.

* * *

Those GirlsLife has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s temper. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. As events spiral out of control they find themselves in a horrifying situation and are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer. But when one of the sisters goes missing, followed closely by her niece, they are pulled back into the past. And this time there’s nowhere left to run.

With Those Girls Chevy Stevens presents her most visceral thriller yet: an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil. A story of survival…and revenge.

* * *

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband in the local mountains.

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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Five Upcoming Historical Novels To Pre-Order Now

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

If history is your bag, we’ve got just the books to tuck in your other bag– your beach bag. Be the first to read them by pre-ordering now. All five of these novels release this summer (some as early as June 2nd) but we like giving you the scoop a bit early. Click here to see a list of our favorite independent bookstores. All of them ship and all of them would be delighted to put these novels in your hands.

The Cherry HarvestTHE CHERRY HARVEST by Lucy Sanna

A memorable coming-of-age story and love story, laced with suspense, which explores a hidden side of the home front during World War II, when German POWs were put to work in a Wisconsin farm community . . . with dark and unexpected consequences.

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent—especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own—including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte’s secrets threaten to explode their world.

Mrs. Sinclaire's SuitcaseMRS SINCLAIR’S SUITCASE by Louise Walters

Roberta, a lonely thirty-four-year-old, works at The New and Old Bookshop in England. When she finds a letter inside her centenarian grandmother’s battered old suitcase that hints at a dark secret, her understanding of her family’s history is completely upturned. Running alongside Roberta’s narrative is that of her grandmother, Dorothy, as a forty-year-old childless woman desperate for motherhood during the early years of World War II. After a chance encounter with a Polish war pilot, Dorothy believes she’s finally found happiness, but instead she is faced with a dilemma so monumental, the consequences affect her granddaughter decades later. And so, the parallel stories of Roberta and Dorothy unravel over the course of eighty years as they both make their own ways through secrets, lies, sacrifices, and love.

The Woman In The PhotographTHE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH by Dana Gynther

Set in the romantic glow of 1920s Paris, a captivating novel of New York socialite and model Lee Miller, whose glamorous looks and joie de vivre caught the eye of Man Ray, one of the twentieth century’s defining photographers.

1929, Montparnasse. Model and woman about town Lee Miller moves to Paris determined to make herself known amidst the giddy circle of celebrated artists, authors, and photographers currently holding court in the city. She seeks out the charming, charismatic artist Man Ray to become his assistant but soon becomes much more than that: his model, his lover, his muse.

Coming into her own more fully every day, Lee models, begins working on her own projects, and even stars in a film, provoking the jealousy of the older and possessive Man Ray. Drinking and carousing is the order of the day, but while hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, she also falls in love with the art of photography and finds that her own vision can no longer come second to her mentor’s.

The Woman in the Photograph is the richly drawn, tempestuous novel about a talented and fearless young woman caught up in one of the most fascinating times of the twentieth century.

Hotel MoscowHOTEL MOSCOW by Talia Carner

From the author of Jerusalem Maiden comes a mesmerizing, thought-provoking novel that tells the riveting story of an American woman—the daughter of Holocaust survivors—who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism, and finds herself embroiled in a perilous mafia conspiracy that could irrevocably destroy her life.

Brooke Fielding, a thirty-eight year old New York investment manager and daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, finds her life suddenly upended in late September 1993 when her job is unexpectedly put in jeopardy. Brooke accepts an invitation to join a friend on a mission to Moscow to teach entrepreneurial skills to Russian business women, which will also give her a chance to gain expertise in the new, vast emerging Russian market. Though excited by the opportunity to save her job and be one of the first Americans to visit Russia after the fall of communism, she also wonders what awaits her in the country that persecuted her mother just a generation ago.

Inspired by the women she meets, Brooke becomes committed to helping them investigate the crime that threatens their businesses. But as the uprising of the Russian parliament against President Boris Yeltsin turns Moscow into a volatile war zone, Brooke will find that her involvement comes at a high cost. For in a city where “capitalism” is still a dirty word, where neighbors spy on neighbors and the new economy is in the hands of a few dangerous men, nothing Brooke does goes unnoticed—and a mistake in her past may now compromise her future.

A moving, poignant, and rich novel, Hotel Moscow is an eye-opening portrait of post-communist Russia and a profound exploration of faith, family, and heritage.

The Tide WatchersTHE TIDE WATCHERS by Lisa Chaplin

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson, comes this compelling debut that weaves the fascinating story of a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803.

Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.

A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.

Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle”—the first fully submersible ship—when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.

When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country—but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another…?

A fast-paced, deeply-researched, and richly imagined novel, The Tide Watchers explores a long-hidden, chapter of Bonaparte’s history.

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: Natalie Baszile

Today’s post by Natalie Baszile | @NatalieBaszile

We’re delighted to visit with Natalie Baszile today. Natalie is the author of QUEEN SUGAR, a story of redemption set on a Louisiana sugarcane farm, soon to be adapted for television for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Today Natalie shares the books she’s reading this summer and we think you’ll find her to be lovely and charming and to have impeccable taste.

Summer Reading Series

The books in my beach bag are more varied this year. I’m usually drawn to realistic literary fiction, but I’ve heard such great things about these books that I’ve decided to mix things up.

Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom

I’ve been a huge Amy Bloom fan since I discovered her early story collections. My copy of Bloom’s critically acclaimed novel, Away, is so marked up and dog-eared, I’ve had to tape the pages together. So, imagine my delight when I learned, last summer, that she had written a new novel. Lucky Us, tells the story of half-sisters, Iris and Eva, who travel across 1940s America in a stolen station wagon, searching for fame, fortune and family. Bloom, a former therapist, knows people’s minds and their hearts. She writes with laser-like precision and dry wit, and her characters stay with you long after you close the covers. I can’t wait to read, Luck Us; and I’ll be sure to have a roll of scotch tape nearby.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

It might be a hard sell to describe Station Eleven as beach reading, but this post-apocalyptic novel about a troupe of Shakespearean actors travelling around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the wake of a cataclysmic flu pandemic has all the makings of a great summer read. Suspenseful and imaginative, Mandel masterfully weaves together four seemingly disparate narratives threads. She plays with time and raises interesting questions about our dependence on technology and all the advances that make us believe we’re civilized.

Ferran, by Coleman Andrews

My best friend, a chocolate maker and all-around-foodie, raved recently about Coleman Andrew’s, Ferran, the first-ever biography about renowned Spanish chef, Ferran Adria, owner of the restaurant, El Bulli. Ferran single-handedly changed the way we think about food (He’s the first chef to have experimented with foam). The book traces his rise through the culinary world, from his humble beginnings as a dishwasher to his coronation as one of the world’s the most important chefs. Ferran is great reading for anyone who loves to eat well or just wants to be inspired.

Where All Light Tends to Go, by David Joy

What’s summer without a gritty Southern tale of drugs, murder and family? I had the pleasure of hearing David Joy read from his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, at the South Carolina Book Festival, and I can tell you, he’s the real deal. Joy writes with the steady hand of an experienced, old school storyteller. His young narrator, Jacob McNeely, is a high school dropout who has accepted his destiny as the heir to a drug dynasty built on the meth sales, bribery, and the occasional murder. Jacob longs for his father’s respect and approval, but even more, he dreams of a bigger, brighter life for his high school sweetheart, Maggie, and is determined to help her escape from their ravaged Appalachian town. Joy’s characters are folks you don’t want to know, but can’t help but love in this unflinching but poetic tale of dreams deferred and lives wasted.

* * *

Queen SugarA mother-daughter story of reinvention—about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

Why exactly her late father left her eight hundred acres of prime sugarcane land in Louisiana is as mysterious as it is generous. But for Charley Bordelon, it’s also an opportunity start over: to get away from the smog and sprawl of Los Angeles, and to grow a new life in the coffee-dark soil of the Gulf coast. Accompanied by her eleven-year-old daughter Micah, Charley arrives with high hopes and just in time for growing season.

Charley is as unfamiliar with Southern customs as she is with cane farming—which poses serious challenges both on and off the farm, especially when her farm manager leaves without warning. But, rolling up her sleeves and swallowing her pride, Charley finds the help of a colorful cast of characters—blood relatives and townspeople alike—who all become a family to her and Micah.

As the cane grows, Charley is tested by a brother who is quickly using up her patience, and it will take all of her heart to keep the sugar growing and her family intact. Queen Sugar is a story of Southern wisdom, unexpected love, and one family flourishing against all odds.

* * *

Natalie BaszileNatalie has a B.A. in English from University California, Berkeley, a Masters in Afro-American Studies from UCLA, and earned an M.F.A from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. An early version of Queen Sugar won the Hurston Wright College Writer’s Award, the Sylvia Clare Brown fellowship, and was runner-up in the Faulkner Pirate’s Alley novel-in-progress competition. Natalie has had residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Hedgebrook. She is a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and lives in San Francisco with her family.

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: Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft, Part Two

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

Welcome back for the second part of our interview with Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft! If you missed part one, you can read it here. Today Kathryn shares a bit about her new novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, and how it was inspired by a tragic event in her own life.

Pekkanen Craft Collage

Sarah: The architecture of your book is astonishing. Although each chapter begins with a new hour (8 a.m.,9 a.m., etc), you hopscotch around place and time, pulling in flashbacks as well as the points of view of three very different women. How were you able to pull this off, and what was your biggest challenge in weaving together these disparate threads?

Kathryn: I didn’t do it well on the first draft, that’s for sure! So coming up with a plan was clearly the biggest challenge. But I didn’t want to compromise either structural aspect. The time signatures evoke the agonizing wait as these three women await word of their loved one’s suicide standoff as well as accentuate the moments these three women have to rise to the day’s challenges. The three points of view allowed a better representation of the impact when one man thinks his life has lost its worth. From personal experience I know that each of these women would have been asking the same thing—“How on earth did we come to this?”—so I needed the backstory.

To pull that off I needed to create, for reference, a master chronology of each of the three characters’ relevant life events. After that a whole lot of printed chapter shuffling ensued as I decided where it might be best for the reader to know each aspect of the backstory information. Once I made those insertions I put it back together and read it through a few more times, for continuity and to write transition material. It was complicated, but it’s amazing what you can pull off with a deadline.

Sarah: During the standoff, Ronnie thinks about her husband Jeff, their courtship and marriage, and the decline of their relationship. A quote from those reflections has stayed with me: “Had despair been entrenched in Jeff’s life even before they’d gotten together?” One of the issues raised by your book is how much responsibility we can bear for the happiness of others. Do you think any person, no matter how wonderful, can fill the hole in another?

Kathryn: That’s such a good question. I think it depends on whether the relationship continues to fill that void. Certainly many couples are able to stay married while fulfilling deep needs for one another. But given my experience, that line from the film Jerry Maguire, “You complete me,” is kind of frightening. If the one who completes you falls apart, how do you go on without healing that void on your own? And once it has healed, how can the other person ever fit back in?

The Far End of Happy exemplifies the stakes when you haven’t learned to love yourself before trying to love another. Ronnie and Jeff were both incomplete characters when they fell in love. One of them healed—and it scared the other to death.

Sarah: Jeff’s mother, Ronnie’s mother, and Ronnie all experience relationships that die in one way or another. Yet a sense of optimism imbues much of your novel, despite the unsettling topic, and all of the women exhibit formidable strength. Do you believe going through difficult times makes us stronger, or does it affect us in other ways? How did living through a similar situation to the one presented in your book change you?

Kathryn: Corporal McNichol’s dialogue carries my thoughts on this: I think life’s challenges reveal us. One very simplistic definition of mental health that’s always stayed with me is that mentally healthy people adapt; the mentally ill can’t. Jeff’s challenges were not extraordinary: many of us must work through the loss of a parent, changes at work, even divorce. But his inability to roll with the punches caused these everyday matters to take on life-or-death significance.

In real life, it wasn’t until my husband chose not to live out the day that I started giving myself credit for doing so. Each day that I got up and set about my business, no matter how frightened or tired I was, I thought, I am choosing life. The notion is so empowering that I’ve been sharing it with others through a #choosethisday Twitter campaign. Why do you choose this day? What makes you come alive? What will you do with these precious moments? I hope to get people thinking and sharing about this.

Sarah: Describe your process. Do you need to write in the same place at the same time every day, or do you go on retreats? Do you use a computer or pen and paper? And what can we look forward to from you next?

Kathryn: I am a morning writer. I can do in two early morning hours what it takes me five to do in the evening. Even more importantly, I am a “pre-social media” writer. If I start promoting blog posts or upcoming events first thing in the morning my thoughts start scurrying like puppies from a pen and containing them again seems a lost cause.

While I can write in a variety of places, my favorite is at the lakeside summer home in northern New York State that has been in our family for fifty years. Looking up from a problematic sentence and seeing the lake and its islands and all that sky stretched before me like God’s canvas—ah, nothing like it.

I tend to use pen and paper first, journaling in each character’s voice until I get a good sense of him or her, and then I switch to the computer. When problems arise, it’s back to pen and paper I go.

As for what comes next, we’ll see. This novel has completed a 17-year arc of healing in my life and I decided to see it through its launch before tackling something new. But ideas were brewing in the car today, so it’s time to pick up that pen…

* * *

The Far End of HappyRonnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.

The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what’s best for her best for everyone?

Based on a real event from the author’s life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them 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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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.

* * *

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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