Archive | Miscellaneous

In Defense of Christmas Letters

Today’s post by Monica McInerney | @MonicaMcInerney

Monica McInerneyI was ten when I first read a Christmas letter. My eyes widened at the writer’s account of her family’s exam successes, sporting triumphs, job promotions and exotic vacations. Did such a perfect family exist? How were they able to do everything so brilliantly, be so successful, get on so well?

And how come my family was the complete opposite?

I was the middle of seven children, living in a small country town in South Australia. Every festive season, the letters arrived in our house from all over Australia, some even from overseas. I would seize upon them and read snippets aloud to my mother in an envious tone.

‘Mrs Kaufmann’s daughter got straight A’s and won a horse-riding cup.’

‘I don’t think they even have a horse,’ Mum would say.

‘Mrs Carmody and her husband have just celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary and have never been happier.’

‘They’ve been fighting like cat and dog since their wedding day,’ Mum said.

‘The letters aren’t true?’ I remember asking in amazement.

‘Possibly not,’ Mum said cryptically.

By the time I was a teenager, I’d come to realize that what people wrote in their Christmas letters might not necessarily be the whole truth. In fact, I found their stories so entertaining that, in partnership with my younger sister, I’d begun writing an annual parody, The McInerney Report, filled with fictional tales about all nine members of my own family.

Written in a suitably breathless tone, it detailed our selfless charity work, our glittering careers, our adventurous travel. One entire issue trumpeted our family’s success in winning the bid to stage the next Olympic Games (the opening ceremony would take place on the local football oval, with Mum doing the catering, we reported). Another year we “launched” our newsletter at an evening cocktail party in the kitchen, with sparkling water served in wine glasses and bowls of peanuts as hors d’oeuvres. At our mother’s insistence, copies of the letter were banned from circulation outside the family.

Eventually we stopped writing our McInerney Reports, but around the world, end-of-year family letters continue to be written and sent out, more often by email now than by post. Some people dismiss them, some even ridicule them. For me, though, they remain as fascinating as they were when I was a child. I still ask myself the question I asked back then: why do people write them?

Pre-internet days, it was easier to answer that question. The Christmas letter was a way of staying connected with distant friends and family, a once-a-year round-up of personal news. These days, we drip-feed information about our lives all year long, via Facebook, Twitter, texts, blogs. We also edit as we go, choosing the best photo, the best anecdote. Very few of us post photos of ourselves on Facebook looking less than our best.

Why do we feel this need to share so much about ourselves, much of it polished to perfection? Is it to give ourselves something to aspire to? To convince ourselves that if we try really hard, harder than we already do, a perfect life might be possible? Our marriages might be blissful? Our children happy and successful? Our jobs fulfilling?

The late British journalist Simon Hoggart had an annual tradition of inviting readers to send him copies of the worst letters they had received. He produced columns of what he decided were the most cringe-worthy highlights. He even published a trio of books, with extracts arranged into mocking subject headings: ‘The Wickedness of Whimsy’, ‘The Sin of Smug Self-Satisfaction’, ‘The Peccadillo of Proud Parenthood.’

I used to be a member of the sneering brigade myself, but not anymore. Perhaps it’s because I now know the truth behind many of the letters my parents received over the years. I’ve learned that the families who wrote the most cheerful and optimistic letters were often the ones hiding the most heartache and disappointment. More often than not, I find the letters heart-breaking, not hilarious. There is something innocent, even sweet, at the heart of them. Yes, some may appear boastful but even they are a testament to the very human urge to put the best foot forward, to hope for the best. I think that’s something to be celebrated, not mocked.

Every day, most of us get up, put on our best face, head out into the world, even if inside we may be filled with self-doubt, wanting nothing more than to stay under the covers. It’s no coincidence that these letters – filled with glories from the past and hopes for the future – are sent out during December. Christmas has always been the time we try to be the best versions of ourselves – generous, high-spirited, unselfish. It’s the time we look back on our achievements, hoping we did the best we could. Look forward to the New Year, hoping things might get better. The time we are forced into each other’s company. It’s the perfect time to tell ourselves the stories we want to hear.

So to all of you who write Christmas letters, I say – please keep them coming. Exaggerate if you have to, if it makes you feel better, if it keeps you going from year-to-year. If nothing else, you’ll entertain your readers. And may I ask one big favor? Can you please add me to your mailing list?

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Hello From The GillespiesIt’s time for the annual holiday letter from the Gillespie family…. 

New from the author of The House of Memories

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth….

The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.

Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways…

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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November Young Adult Book Review

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

love letters to the deadLove Letters to the Dead, from debut author Ava Dellaira, caught my eye immediately both with it’s unique cover and intriguing concept. Add to that the fact that there was a sort of groundswell of buzz in the YA world months before it was released in early April, and I knew it would be a must-read title for me.

Maybe it’s obvious that a book titled Love Letters to the Dead is going to be a pretty emotional one, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for all there is to find in here. Laurel, the main character, is given an assignment in her English class to write a letter to a dead person. It’s meant to be a one-time, simple assignment, but turns into a way for Laurel to work through some seriously heavy topics. Her parents divorced, her sister May died, her mom moved away, she switched schools… and that all happened before the book actually begins. As Laurel turns the English assignment into a whole series of letters exploring the decomposition of her family, May’s death, and revealing snippets of the circumstances surrounding her death, she begins to heal and come through as herself rather than just a shell of May. She also experiences her first love in a sweet boy named Sky, and I really appreciated Sky’s character for his role in Laurel’s healing process. He’s honest and caring and doesn’t try to take advantage of Laurel in her fragile state. He’s there when she needs him, as all good friends should be.

There were a few times I almost stopped reading. Too much sadness, too much belittling of the religious aunt, too much teen drinking, too much stuff, but I’m so glad I didn’t stop. Laurel is a very realistic teenage girl wrestling with things that most teenagers have to deal with in some way or another, and while she makes some decisions I wouldn’t want my students making, she definitely learns from her mistakes. She comes out a better person than she was going in. I admire Laurel – especially who Laurel becomes by the end of the book – for how she deals with things that have happened to her and makes a conscious choice to change the trajectory of her life.

By the time I was two-thirds done with Love Letters to the Dead, I liked it. When I finished it, I really liked it. After it had a few hours to settle and sink in, I loved it. I’m also a fan of the potential this has to spark good, healthy conversations about tough topics between teens and parents, so pick up two copies and make it a mother/daughter project. In the vein of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, it’s not a frilly, finish in a day and smile the whole way through kind of book, but it is a stick with you and make your heart feel full kind of a book.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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How Does Your Garden Grow? The Night Garden, by Lisa Van Allen

Today’s post by Lisa Van Allen |

lisa-van-allen-writer-smallWhen I started my research for THE NIGHT GARDEN, I began by buying a field guide to poisonous plants and mushrooms, which I then used as my bedtime reading for about a month. At one point my husband looked at me and said, “Should I be worried?”

I laughed. I’d always been fascinated by poisonous plants—by the beautiful belladonna, which was once distilled into droplets to cause women’s pupils to suggestively dilate; by milkweed, which grew behind our house and attracted fascinating monarch caterpillars; even by poison ivy, which—amazingly enough—evolved a particular kind of defense mechanism that only works on human beings.

Of course, a person doesn’t set out to write a novel about plants—there’s got to be story. And for me, there’s got to be magic, too. Something unexpected. And a satisfying romance. I thought back to my high school lit class, to Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter, and the idea for THE NIGHT GARDEN began to bloom.

Here’s the gist: Olivia Pennywort is the mysterious caretaker of an enchanted garden maze in the rolling hills of the western Catskills—and while I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll just say that she has a condition that forces her to keep the world at arm’s length. People from all over come to her maze to walk its wild and unexpected corridors; it’s said that getting lost in the maze can help a person find her way through life’s toughest questions. Olivia is lonely but content in her enchanted little kingdom, caring for her ailing father and for the ragtag group of women who live in her falling down barn.

Enter Sam Van Winkle, Olivia’s childhood crush, who has a mysterious condition of his own and who has returned to Green Valley with Olivia in mind. As Sam relentlessly pursues a new friendship with her, Olivia begins to question her relationships, her dreams, and her way of moving through the world. She wonders: Are the garden walls that have kept her safe for so long her paradise, or her prison?

Like my prior book THE WISHING THREAD, this book explores how a woman can find a way to live her best, most authentic and satisfying life. It was a joy to write (and research)! You can find out more on my website.

Thanks to everyone at She Reads for having me here today! And thanks to YOU, reader, for loving books and supporting writers like me.

* * *

night garden final - smallerFor fans of Sarah Addison Allen, Aimee Bender, and Alice Hoffman, The Night Garden is a luminous novel of love, forgiveness, and the possibilities that arise when you open your heart.
 
Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Fictionalizing Historical Figures

Today’s post by Renee Rosen | @ReneeRosen1

Renne RosenOne of the reasons I love historical fiction is because I feel like I’m learning as I read. But that said, when it comes to portraying historical figures and real life events, we authors sometimes take certain liberties needed to facilitate the telling of a good strong narrative. It’s that old saw, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” But trust me, that’s easier said than written.

While working on WHAT THE LADY WANTS I had to make some critical choices in terms of how much creative license I was willing to take. This is never an easy decision, particularly when you are dealing with well-known subjects. In the case of Marshall Field, who is a Chicago icon, I came up against one enormous obstacle. While he was a public figure, he was exceedingly private when it came to his personal life. The more research I did, the more questions I had. At one point I was so overwhelmed that I felt certain I could not write this book. It wasn’t until a dear friend reminded me that I was writing a novel and after that, I made the decision to treat it as such.

I dove in full speed and greedily used whatever facts I could find, but at the end of the day, all I had was a skeletal vision of who Marshall Field and his mistress, Delia Caton really were. It was really no different from creating fictional characters from scratch. You have a few known elements and then need to put some meat on their bones. I wanted to bring these figures to life, but in a way that would fit with the facts that we already had in place. So I went as close to the source as I could. The Chicago History Museum and the Newberry Library house the archives of both Marshall Field’s and Delia Spencer’s niece. I was given a pair of white gloves and boxes upon boxes of photographs and documents, including engagement books and letters. The photographs were especially helpful. I got a sense of how Delia and Marshall Field dressed, how they posed and interacted with each other and with their spouses. I got a glimpse inside their magnificent homes and in the case of Delia, I observed that she was rarely photographed without her little Yorkshire Terrier named Flossie.

As I let my imagination wander, I felt and still feel a responsibility to the real figures behind my characters. I spent a great deal of time on the author’s note in the book so that readers would know what was fact and what was fiction. Let me also say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for historians and those who write narrative nonfiction. The citations alone would put me over the edge! So at the end of the day, I think I’ll stick with fiction and the luxury of taking creative license here and there.

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9780451466716_large_What_the_Lady_WantsIn late-nineteenth-century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto: “Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer and led to an infamous love affair.

The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watches the flames rise and consume what was the pioneer town of Chicago, she can’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world are about to change. Nor can she guess that the agent of that change will not simply be the fire, but more so the man she meets that night.…

Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store. He and his powerhouse coterie—including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation.

But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago is transformed into the gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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November Young Adult Book Reviews

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

One of the things I love most about book blogging is discovering authors I’ve never gotten to read before. Sometimes they’re well-established authors that I just hadn’t gotten around to, but I also get to read a fair number of books from authors getting ready to publish their first titles. For today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to two great YA debuts that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. These authors are seriously talented – I’m already looking forward to whatever they publish next!

CRAZYCRAZY by Linda Vigen Phillips is a beautifully written account of how mental illness affected one family in the 1960’s, and of the hope that comes from art, open communication, and the road to healing. Written in verse, CRAZY is a collection of thoughts, snippets of conversations, observations, and artwork from the protagonist, Laura. Her mother suffers from a mental illness that Laura tries desperately to hide from her friends, both because she’s ashamed to have a mom who’s not normal and because she’s afraid she’ll turn out just like her. Laura’s journey from fear and not-knowing to hope and understanding is pretty and inspirational, and I absolutely loved how Phillips incorporated Laura’s artwork throughout the novel. I asked Linda more about the art-inspiration in her debut a few months ago; you can find that interview here if you’re interested. CRAZY just came out a few weeks ago, so grab it and settle in with some coffee for a few seriously enjoyable hours!

 

No Place to FallNO PLACE TO FALL by Jaye Robin Brown is the story of Amber Vaughn, a high school girl with a real gift for singing, who wants more out of life than the tiny little NC mountain town she has grown up in can offer her. Throw in a banjo-playing boy and you have a sweet story that combines themes of family, first love, music, and dreaming big in a way that all just works together. It’s wonderful. I asked Jaye about the musical inspirations behind Amber and her story, to which she responded that NO PLACE TO FALL didn’t start out as a book about music, but that as Amber’s voice developed in her mind the “idea grew and spread, and the music seeped in little by little.” Check out the playlist on Groove Shark, which is full of old-timey classics like Patsy Cline, Allison Krauss, and Dolly Parton. (You can find the full interview with Jaye here if you want to read more… and you should, because it’s fascinating.) NO PLACE TO FALL comes out on December 9th from Harper Collins – I’d recommend preordering it so it shows up at your doorstep, or on your reading device, on release day.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Truth About Grief And Writing

Today’s post by Susan Strecker | @SusanStrecker

Susan StreckerI get asked a lot what inspired me to write NIGHT BLINDNESS. I am truthful in my answer when I explain my father was terminally ill and I began writing as a way to work through my grief. What I have not said is that I needed to write this book, both as a way to honor my dad and to have something to hold on to. Writing was a life preserver in the deep end of the ocean, oxygen in an airless space. Although the end product is an entirely different novel than what I began in a dimly-lit hospital room in Baltimore, every word I wrote was for my dad.

People say it’s not healthy to hold on to the dead and sooner or later, we have to move on. I will never let go of my father. Waking every morning and knowing it may have been my last with him was like being trapped under a thousand pound boulder. It crushed my lungs. It was impossible to breathe. Worse than that, I didn’t want to. I was staring down the barrel of life without him, and there were times when it was just too much. Writing NIGHT BLINDNESS gave me an outlet for my grief, something positive to focus on. Hospitals, MRIs, steroids, surgeons, radiation oncologists and the swift knowledge that my dad, who was fifty-eight when he was diagnosed, only had months to live consumed me. It literally ate me. I lost a scary amount of weight. I kept getting skinnier and just didn’t care. The great love of my life proposed and while I didn’t quite say no, I definitely didn’t say yes. I was going down and I loved him too much to take him with me.

The problem with grief is that there’s no getting away from it. All I could do was hold onto the helm and weather the storm. While this tempest will last forever, perhaps it has taken on a new form, the way rain turns to snow. One’s not better than the other, they’re just different. As my grief began to morph from one shape to another, I found I could breathe a little. So I started writing again. This time it wasn’t with the sole intent of outrunning my grief for one more day. Now I was able to say goodbye and thank you to the characters who had held my hand and sat with me when all I could do was cry and throw shoes at the wall. I wrote about what I felt for my dad. I paid tribute to him by creating a love between father and daughter that was so huge, it needed to be told. I wrote about family and love and regret and lost chances and the haunting question, what could have been? I will never let go of my dad. But, now, moving forward, I have created something for him, for us that I will keep with me.

* * *

Night BlindnessA future as bright as the stars above the Connecticut shore lay before Jensen Reilly and her high school sweetheart, Ryder, until the terrible events of an October night left Jensen running from her family and her first love. Over the years that followed, Jensen buried her painful past, and now, married to a charismatic artist, she has created a new life far away from the unbearable secret of that night.

When Jensen’s father, Sterling, is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she returns to her childhood home for the first time in thirteen years, and the memories of her old life come flooding back along with the people she’s tried to escape. Torn between her life in Santa Fe with her free-spirited husband, Nic, and the realization that it is time to face her past, Jensen must make a terrifying decision that threatens to change her life again—this time forever.

An emotionally thrilling debut set during a New England summer, Susan Strecker’s Night Blindness is a compelling novel about the choices we make, the sanctity of friendship, and the power of love.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Word Of The Day

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Sadly I was born with a tin ear and two left feet. I can not sing, dance, clap in time with music, or write poetry. I’m a one trick pony. Novel writing is all I have. But that’s okay. Because I can BALTER.

And thus we give you our word of the day:

balter

Also, one of the bright, charming, lovely members of our blog network, Ariel Price of One Little Library, has put together a short reader survey. Would you mind stopping by for a few moments and answering a handful of questions? It will help not only Ariel but also She Reads find ways to better serve you, the reader. Thank you and have a lovely Tuesday!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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The Mystery of the Mistress: A True Story

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Hello,

I’d like to find out where you did your research for your book about Judge Crater? You see, the showgirl depicted in your book was actually my grandmother…

Ariel Lawhon Collage

So began an email that I received on May 16th, 2014. There are certain moments that writers do not forget. Your first good review. Your first bad review. Finally holding the book you’ve labored over in your hands. But I am convinced there is nothing that will send you into total body failure so fast as receiving an email from someone who shouldn’t exist. Because that showgirl I wrote about, the one I’d researched and brought to life on the pages of my novel? The one whose granddaughter had just written me? I truly believed she had died in the fall of 1930. She shouldn’t have lived long enough to have children, much less grandchildren. But that email turned all my personal theories inside out.

My first introduction to Sally Lou Ritz (one of the titular characters in my novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS) came ten years ago while reading an article about a missing New York State Supreme Court Judge. Though we’ve largely forgotten him, Joseph Crater was nothing short of legend for almost fifty years. He’d only been on the court four months when he got into a cab on August 6th, 1930 and vanished. His disappearance became the biggest missing person’s case of the twentieth century, thanks in no small part to his connections with Tammany Hall, infamous gangsters, and rumors of judicial corruption.

It didn’t take long to discover that there were three interesting women in Judge Crater’s life: his jaded, socialite wife Stella; a devoted maid who was in their apartment in the days surrounding his disappearance; and a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz (her last name was actually Ritzi–the nickname I gave her in the book), long suspected to be Crater’s lover.

A wife. A maid. And a mistress. What if all three of them knew what happened to him but chose not to tell? Now I had a story.

But the difficulty in writing about historical figures is that you must treat them with respect. Their legacies and their families and their memories must be honored. Despite the fact that they felt like characters to me, they were real people. And there could be men and women wandering around the planet that knew and loved them. I don’t believe that writers must always paint their characters in a positive light—especially when history supports a gritty version of events—but I do believe they should be treated with dignity. And I was determined to be mindful of that responsibility.

Yet here’s the truth: in this particular situation I felt as though I’d gotten off easy. Joseph and Stella Crater never had children. The maid, known only as Amedia Christian (I changed her name for the novel) makes one appearance in one newspaper article and no one knows for sure if that was even her real name. And the showgirl vanished shortly after judge Crater. She’s been listed as a missing person for the last eighty-four years. I stayed with the facts that could be verified. But beyond that, my imagination had room to play. Joseph Crater’s disappearance is still unsolved. No one knows what became of him. So I used these three women to tell a version of events that could have happened. And I was very pleased with how it turned out.

And then came that email in May.

Ritzi’s granddaughter went on to tell me that her grandmother had left New York City in fall of 1930. That she had changed her name. Married. Had a child. She had gone on with her life and never once mentioned that she was with Joseph Crater on the night that he disappeared. Or that she had been in any way connected to one of the most notorious missing persons cases in history. Her children and grandchildren knew her simply as a beautiful, talented, charming woman who shied away from personal questions. She died in 2000 after living a full, happy life.

It’s ironic, that.

Even though I sincerely believed that Ritzi had not made it out of New York City alive, I wrote her a different ending. A happy one. I gave her a family. A new name. I wanted those things for her. And I was brought to tears by the knowledge that she actually got them.

I spent several weeks this summer communicating with various members of Ritzi’s family. I’d gotten many things right. Her real name for instance: Sarah (she went by Sally). Some things I’d gotten wrong. She fled to California, not Iowa as I’d imagined. But the thing that humbled me most was that her son, granddaughter, and great grandson had a few more answers than they did before. Much of what I wrote about her was total fiction. But I was able to point Ritzi’s family to the historical record of her time as a dancer on Broadway, to her connection with Judge Crater, and to testimony she’d given police about his disappearance.

Questions were answered. (For them and for me). Gaps were filled. And a legacy was discovered. To me that is a better ending than anything I could have written.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Book Trailer Of The Day: US by David Nicholls

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

If you’ve spent any time around us over the last few years you have heard us talk about David Nicholls’ novel, ONE DAY. We loved the novel. We loved the movie (I still think about that ending) so it’s no surprise that we began pacing the moment we heard he had a new novel in the works. And, after watching the trailer below we’re both rather desperate to get our hands on it.

* Email readers can click here to see the video.

USLonglisted for the Man Booker Prize

David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Timesbestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.

Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view,Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafés of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Book Club Recipe for The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

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

We’re so delighted to have Ingrid, from Edible Tapestry, back on the blog today sharing a book club recipe that she created for THE SILENT SISTER. We hope you enjoy!

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In Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister, the character Lisa has ties to the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast, as well as an unfortunate connection to Italy. When she secretly attends her little sister, Riley’s, birthday party at a New Bern, NC seafood restaurant, hidden behind a pair of dark glasses, I was moved by the scene, but disappointed when she fled the eatery before enjoying the stuffed flounder she’d ordered.

I was a big fan of the incumbent offering of crab stuffed flounder that appeared on so many seafood dive menus when I was growing up in Florida, so the fact that she missed out on the meal left me with an unexpected craving. Fish is usually the last food item to set my culinary wheels turning, but when I thought of Italian rice balls and Southern pecan crusted fish, I began toying with the idea of substituting salmon for the flounder because of Lisa’s Seattle connection. From there, stopping short of throwing lump crab meat into the mix, I was easily able to pull my ideas together to make Arancini.

While Arancini are typically made with risotto, which is traditionally prepared using arborio rice, I simply cooked brown rice in broth to make my little rice balls, for a more nutritious version. The amount of asiago cheese I added to the filling, coupled with the fact that the rice balls are deep fried in a panko and pecan breading, may have canceled out the heart-healthy benefits of the brown rice and salmon filets, but the end result was a crunchy and tasty fun food that I was very pleased to bite into. A little garlic butter for dipping skyrocketed them to the top of the list of seafood dishes that I adore.

Pecan Crusted Salmon Arancini with Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

2 c. cooked rice

1 c. raw salmon fillets, flaked into pieces

1 c. grated asiago cheese

1 small clove of garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt, less if using table salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 T minced, fresh Italian parsley

3 large eggs

1 c. panko breading

1/3 c. finely chopped pecans

Oil for frying. I used half Greek olive oil, half vegetable oil.

Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce

1 c. salted butter

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

Method:

To make the balls, combine the rice, salmon, cheese, garlic, salt & pepper, parsley, and one egg in a mixing bowl. Shape and compress it into balls around 1″ in diameter, the same way you would make meatballs.

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Place the rolled balls on a plate and chill until firm.

Combine the pecans and panko in a large mixing bowl.

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Beat the remaining two eggs in another bowl.

Heat the oil in a pan to a depth of around an inch and a half. Test the temperature by dropping a bit of egg, coated in the panko/pecan breading into the heated oil. If it bubbles gently, it is ready, but it should not pop and sizzle, violently.

Dip each rice ball into the egg, then into the panko/pecans. Rolling to completely cover.

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Drop a few at a time into the hot oil and fry until browned, turning as necessary to completely cook them while being careful not to overcrowd the oil and bring down its temperature.

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Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and to drain on absorbent paper.

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To make the dipping sauce, just melt the butter in saucepan over low heat and toss in the garlic. Keep warm for serving with a candle-lit fondue warmer or mini slow cooker.

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Yield: Approximately 2 dozen.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, 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). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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