Archive | Recommended Reading

Jennie Shortridge, In Her Own Words

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Jennie Shortridge | @JennieShortridg

Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge

If I could tell my 12-year-old self that it all worked out just fine, that the books I read voraciously and the stories and poems I wrote with such a broken heart would lead to a later-life career of actually having my own novels published? Well, I don’t know if I would, even though it would have eased my young anxious mind. Over the decades I’ve learned that it’s the journey through that is most important, even though the outcome can be so sweet.

My journey, like most journeys, includes hardship (a mom with mental illness, an adult life that began at 17, and tons of early writing rejection) and indelible moments of joy, success, and love. All of it contributes to the stories I write about people who face difficult things and find a way through, not around. Such is the case with my latest novel, Love Water Memory, in which Lucie awakens, knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay, having no knowledge of who she is or where she is, or how she got there. Inspired by true events, this story examines how and why we become who we are, how we identify with the world, who we choose to love, sometimes again and again.

Love Water MemoryThe true events in Love Water Memory started with the story of Jeff and Penny Ingram, who dealt with Jeff’s amnesia in their own relationship. Their story and their love for each other are inspirational. As I was writing my fictional story, I wrote a very difficult scene, one that would take me a couple of weeks to realize came from my own life. Writing it helped me talk about my own issues with anxiety disorder more publicly, and to advocate for destigmatizing mental illness in order to make much-needed advancements in how we treat it, talk about it, and accept it as part of life just as we do physical illness. To read more about my story, read this Psychology Today piece.

What I’m most thankful for as a writer is readers, who, like me, pick up a book ready for adventure and perhaps a different perspective on something we all ponder, whether it’s identity or family or relationships. I love those “aha” moments when reading a novel, when the characters do or feel something achingly true, yet I’d never put my finger on it before. That’s why I love, have always loved, fiction so much: it tells the emotional truth even while spinning a not-quite-true story. And that I get to write it now? Well, my inner 12-year-old is very happy about that.

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Jennie Shortridge has written five acclaimed novels, including Love Water Memory and When She Flew. When she is not writing or volunteering, she stays busy as a co-founder of Seattle7Writers.org, a nonprofit collective of authors whose mission is to promote literacy in their community.

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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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January Book Club Selection

LoveWaterMemory Collage

We’re back! And we hope the last few weeks have been as restful and restorative for you as they have been for us. We read. We napped. We baked lots of ridiculously fattening goodies with sticky-fingered little people. And as glorious as our time off has been, the entire She Reads team is ready to get back to business. We’re craving structure. We’re eager to introduce you to some amazing novels this year. And with all the coming book-love we have a few surprises as well. We’re redesigning our website from the ground up. A bit of the design is on display today but there’s much more on the way. All of these changes will help us better serve YOU.

So without further ado, let us step into a new year of books…

Our first book club pick of 2014 became known around our (virtual) office as “the book that got away.” We first read LOVE WATER MEMORY by Jennie Shortridge in April of last year. And we loved it. But our selections had already been chosen for the next six months. So we invited Jennie to write a guest post and we set the novel aside with deep regret. That happens sometimes, I’m afraid. So many beautiful novels, so little time. Yet it was one of those novels that we kept thinking about. A traumatized woman. A secret buried within the folds of her unreliable memory. A man desperate to hold onto her, even as she slips away. And above all, the tender hope of second chances and genuine healing. There was nothing neat and tidy about this novel. It was real and gritty and beautiful. We walked with Lucie and Grady through every aching, authentic step of their journey. So we are jumping at the opportunity to choose it as our January book club selection. Newly released in paperback, we are confident that you will find LOVE WATER MEMORY not only as delightful and compelling as we did, but also the perfect book to begin 2014–the year of epic reading.

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* * * Love Water Memory

If you could do it all over again, would you still choose him?

At age thirty-nine, Lucie Walker has no choice but to start her life over when she comes to, up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay, with no idea how she got there or who she is. Her memory loss is caused by an emotional trauma she knows nothing about, and only when handsome, quiet Grady Goodall arrives at the hospital does she learn she has a home, a career, and a wedding just two months away. What went wrong? Grady seems to care for her, but Lucie is no more sure of him than she is of anything. As she collects the clues of her past self, she unlocks the mystery of what happened to her. The painful secrets she uncovers could hold the key to her future—if she trusts her heart enough to guide her.

Add LOVE WATER MEMORY to your Goodreads to-read list.

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Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge

Seattle author Jennie Shortridge’s latest novel, LOVE WATER MEMORY, released in April 2013. She has published four other acclaimed novels: WHEN SHE FLEWLOVE AND BIOLOGY AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSEEATING HEAVEN, and RIDING WITH THE QUEEN. Her nonfiction work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, and her one-and-only published short story, “Simpatico,” launched her novel writing career in 1997. When not writing, teaching writers workshops, or volunteering, Jennie stays busy as a founding member of Seattle7Writers.org, a collective of authors devoted both to raising funds for community literacy projects and to raising awareness of Northwest literature. In her previous lives she has been a plumber, a cook, and a working musician. No, she cannot fix your toilet, but she is hard at work on her next novel. 

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Laura Spinella

Today’s post by author Laura Spinella, author of PERFECT TIMING | @spinellauthor

Laura Spinella

Laura Spinella

Something true, huh? I guess embarrassingly true qualifies? Okay, fine, in the name of creative inspiration: I’m not much for pop culture or topics that trend. If you were to twerk then tweet about it, I probably couldn’t relate to either form of communication.  I don’t watch much television, and if you ask me to name any of Billboard’s hot 100 artists, I might get four, maybe five right.   I’m much sharper with show tunes. However, never let it be said that I’m not susceptible to a pretty face, velvet timbre voice, and a good story—even if I have to make it up.

The Goo Goo Dolls have been around since the late 80s. Back then, when I was of a certain age, and so were they, I saw a photograph of lead singer, John Rzeznik. It stuck to my mind like gum on a shoe. I remember thinking he was so pretty he made your teeth ache. At the time, I invested in some rock star daydreaming, imagining what kind of girl a guy like that would want. I mean really want.  A girl the rock star would want more… Well, more than he wanted to be a rock star.  In defense of my imagination, it refused to cast the clichés, rejecting rail-thin models and dime-a-dozen movie star prototypes. I wondered if the thing that made the girl irresistible to him, and vice versa, could transcend the mock-up that minds will automatically manufacture. I became curious about their boy/girl back story. I mean, there had to be one, right?   There had to be a deep history and something that connected the two in way that survived other relationships and a downward plunge on the charts. It also had to be a bond strong enough, intriguing enough, to trump a rock star life.

My imagination—because it generally gets its way—took things one step further (no disrespect to Mr. Rzeznik here, I have no earthly idea if he’s a jerk or not) thinking how much cooler it would be if said rock star, my rock star, didn’t fit the pop culture mold. What if what made him real went completely against type? For the next twenty plus years, rock stars went their way and I went mine. Although, admittedly, I did toss that saucy thought around, mulling over the possibilities every so often until the characters, their story, and the timing were absolutely perfect.

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Perfect TimingThere’s rock, there’s a hard place, then there’s Aidan & Isabel.  

What’s a Jersey Girl to do when she moves to Catswallow, Alabama? Isabel Lang finds the answer in an unlikely bond with the musically gifted Aidan Roycroft. The two share everything from a first kiss to startling family secrets. But when Aidan is accused of a violent crime, the two flee to Las Vegas where Isabel’s future comes tumbling down.

Seven years later, the past is buried, including any relationship with Aidan. Isabel is busy running a radio station and closing in on commitment with Nate Potter, a guy who defines ideal. Life seems cozy until new station management demands a sudden-death ratings grabber, putting everyone’s future on the line. What should be a simple solution leads to a stunning revelation as Isabel is forced to call on the past and the only rock star she knows.

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jeffrey Stepakoff

Today’s post by author Jeffrey Stepakoff | @JeffStepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff

When I grew up in Atlanta, I had a dear friend named Elaine who lived on this wonderful street where a lot of the kids all knew each other.   It was one of those lovely tree-lined neighborhoods where the parents were all friends with each other and their kids grew up together.   I lived further out in the suburbs and, as I got older, I would often drive to this upscale neighborhood, joining my friends who lived there, and others who lived nearby.   Sometimes we’d hang out by the neighborhood pool, swapping stories and plans for college, and listening to late ’70s rock on the open doors of our cars in summer.   And sometimes when it was colder, we would spend time in Elaine’s basement.   You may remember these basements, with the wood paneling, and drop ceilings, and the record player, and the bookcases filled to overflowing with hardbacks of all kinds.   This was a basement that many of us knew well.

Cut to:   twenty-five years later.   After spending the majority of my adult life in Los Angeles, I moved, along with my wife and our young children, back to Atlanta.   And one of the first things we did was to reconnect with old friends, including my buddy, Michael, who had purchased Elaine’s old house.

Michael had grown up in the house literally across the street from Elaine.   His parents and her parents were best friends.

My wife, our girls, and I went to Michael’s new home in Elaine’s old house for dinner, joining him, his wife, and their kids.   Michael showed us around, pointing out all the amazing and gorgeous upgrades he had made to the rambling thirty-five year old property, finally leading us down to the basement, where, I noted to Michael, nothing had changed.

He smiled and said, “Have you seen the bomb shelter? ”

Bomb shelter? ”

With a wave of his hand, Michael pointed across the room where one of the floor-to-ceiling book cases had been pulled away from the wall and, sure enough, there was an opening.

We followed Michael in, down a fifteen-foot metal ladder, across a thirty-foot low corridor, to a large concrete capsule.   We walked through its open steel blast-door.

Inside were all the accoutrements and accessories a family of four would need to survive the end of the world.   From the food stocks to the medical supplies to the water purification kits, it was all there, and then some.

I was blown away.

Michael explained that he learned about the bomb shelter the day he closed on the house.   Apparently, no one knew about it — not even Elaine.   She had learned about when she was an adult, the same day Michael did.

How many times had I looked at that basement bookcase and never known what was behind it?   What would drive a man to feel that he needed to prepare for the end of the world in such a way?

These are questions that I deal with in my new novel, The Melody of Secrets.   A bomb shelter plays a part in the new book.   And Elaine’s basement was the inspiration.

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The Melody of Secrets (1)The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn’t much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage.

Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world…

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Kristina McMorris

Today’s post by author Kristina McMorris | @KrisMcMorris

Kristina McMorris

Kristina McMorris

Night terrors. Any parent who has experienced them firsthand would likely agree the term is an apt description. My oldest son, now ten years old, used to suffer from these episodes when he was a toddler. His panicked shrieks frequently summoned me or my husband to his bedroom, where he would be sitting upright in bed, eyes wide with fear, unable to wake, viewing something nobody else in the room could see. And yet, come morning, he would have no recollection of the event.

Over time—thankfully—he outgrew the severe and vivid nightmares, just as his pediatrician had predicted. The son of a friend, on the other hand, has not been as fortunate. For a reason his parents and doctors are unable to pinpoint, the boy’s night terrors have only worsened, often lasting several hours at a time and requiring his parents to restrain him to prevent self-inflicted injuries.

Perhaps it was my knowledge of their dilemma, in addition to firsthand experience, that heightened my interest in a particular news story two years ago. The report featured a toddler boy who had also suffered from violent, recurrent night terrors, though invariably his alluded to a plane crash—and not just any plane: a Corsair from World War II. Apparently, his knowledge of obscure, verifiable details ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.

Do I, myself, believe this to be the case? I couldn’t tell you. What I do know is that when my eldest son was a toddler he would sometimes speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Sure, maybe we simply misheard him. Or maybe it was just the creative ramblings of a youngster… but what if it was something more?

Taking it a step further, the literary portion of my mind began to wonder: Could a child’s nightmares be linked to the past, perhaps even reveal secrets other people wanted to keep buried?

It was this train of thought that formed half the premise of my latest novel, The Pieces We Keep. And a declassified account of Nazi saboteurs inspired the rest.

Although I had done a great deal of WWII research for my past novels, only through a friend did I learn of a group of German spies who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. Intrigued, I sought out more details on the topic and what I found was an astounding account involving espionage, tragedy, and romance; deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover; and even a secret military tribunal assembled by FDR. In essence, it was the makings of a Hollywood film and a story I couldn’t resist.

Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.

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TPWK_CoverIn this richly emotional novel, Kristina McMorris evokes the depth of a mother’s bond with her child, and the power of personal histories to echo through generations…

Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying–but it’s just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.

As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to World War II, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound–and perhaps, at last, to heal.

Intricate and beautifully written,  The Pieces We Keep  illuminates those moments when life asks us to reach beyond what we know and embrace what was once unthinkable. Deftly weaving together past and present, herein lies a story that is at once poignant and thought-provoking, and as unpredictable as the human heart.

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Joshilyn Jackson

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Joshilyn Jackson | @JoshilynJackson

Joshilyn JacksonSOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY features two sets of male/female best friends: Walcott and Shandi, William and Paula. Shandi falls for William in chapter one, when they are caught together in a robbery gone bad and William steps between the gun and Shandi’s little son.

I wanted the romantic focus to stay on William and Shandi, and yet they each had a best friend of the opposite sex. There was too much possibility! Love is powerful, and sex is sneaky. They can sprout between the most unlikely people.

Here’s the short (very expurgated) version of my own love story: I met Scott when I was a 19 and he was 20. We were both theatre majors. He was a long, gangly fellow, very quiet, very introspective. His silence set him apart from the flamboyant gaggle of wild actors I ran with. I gravitated to it.

I learned he was a shameless geek with a thousand comic books kept mint in special plastic sleeves and a secret dream to one day ride the space shuttle. He reminded me of a German shepherd puppy, a little goofy, with skinny legs and feet way too big for his body.

He quickly became my best friend. Back then, if you had asked me if men and women could be just friends, I would have jerked my thumb at Scott and said, “Obviously. ”

Scott and JoshilynBut as the years passed, the German Shepherd puppy grew into his giant feet. Love and Sex twined around us and ate us up, whole, so fast and sly I didn’t notice —until I did. Then I married him and had his charming babies, and I still like him best. The end.

When I wanted to write about male/female best friend sets in SOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY, I had to find a way to take possibility out of the equation. Granted, not every man and woman who become friends end up in bed—but as long as they stay out of bed, the possibility remains. Turns out, possibility is harder to remove than sex itself.

I couldn’t make the dynamics work until I took away the speculation; I made both pairs of friends have sex with each other before the novel begins. It was the only thing that worked! I found no way to get my characters around possibility, so I moved them through it. Through it, and into something else.

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SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORYSomeone Else’s Love Story  is beloved and highly acclaimed  New York Times  bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson’s funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love, and learning that things aren’t always what they seem—or what we hope they will be.

Shandi Pierce is juggling finishing college, raising her delightful three-year-old genius son Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced parents. She’s got enough complications without getting caught in the middle of a stick-up and falling in love with William Ashe, who willingly steps between the robber and her son.

Shandi doesn’t know that her blond god Thor has his own complications. When he looked down the barrel of that gun he believed it was destiny: It’s been one year to the day since a tragic act of physics shattered his world. But William doesn’t define destiny the way others do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in facts and numbers, destiny to him is about choice. Now, he and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

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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Author Profile – Allison Winn Scotch

Today’s post by  Allison Winn Scotch | @aswinn

We’re delighted to visit with New York Times Bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch today. Her new novel, THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES, is making waves and getting rave reviews. We were able to sit down with Allison and get pick her brain about this novel in particular and the writing life in general. We’ve also got a copy of THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES up for grabs to one lucky winner. See entry form below for details.

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Allison Winn ScotchGrowing up with the last name “Winn” was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because prior to any monumental event — a T-ball game, my SATs, a talent show -my dad would look at me and say, “What’s your last name?” And I’d have to reply, “Winn.” (Get it? Win.)  It was a curse for those same reasons. :) There are only so many times your dad can say that to you before you roll your eyes with annoyance and wish that your last name weren’t an actual verb that stood for excellence. (Though I married a guy whose name is an alcoholic beverage, so I guess it’s better than shouting back “scotch!,” which surely would have put me in therapy for years.) Still though, my dad’s message stuck with me, long after I left the house and headed 3000 miles away for college. The message was this: be your best. Not THE best. YOUR best. And I think that this childhood mantra has probably influenced my writing and my characters as much as anything else in my life.

Be your best. It’s pretty simple right?

And yet. And yet, it’s not that simple. As busy women, we so often feel compromised; we aren’t as patient with our children; we eye the clock at work, wondering when we should rush out; we keep track of friends only on Facebook; we wish we did yoga more; we wish we ate organic food more; we wish we slept more, had sex more, relaxed more. I mean, I could write a list that went on forever. What is our best anyway?

I often try to answer that question through my characters, particularly in THEORY OF OPPOSITES, but in my other books too. I start with women who aren’t living their best lives (not to sound like Oprah or anything) and who have to find their own way to actually find their own happiness. And while none of these characters are me – in fact, in THEORY, I’m more like my protagonist’s best friend than my protagonist — it’s eye-opening to take the journey with them. To open up their lives and see how small changes, maybe not compromising on a unfulfilling relationship or maybe asking more of herself than she’d asked before, can change their worlds entirely. I push them to risk more, to be braver, to stand on a high wire and look down and see how beautiful it can be. And when I do that for them, I also do it for me. I discover that maybe I could be more courageous or more patient or more open to change. It’s a pretty amazing process actually: that I start with fictional two-dimensional characters in my imagination, and I end up with fully-formed  people  who have somehow taught me how to be a little bit closer to my best.

Here’s the truth: you don’t have to  be named Winn to understand your potential. You just need a little honesty, a little clear-headedness, and maybe, if you have a few hours in your day, a good book. And if you can’t find those few hours, don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.

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The Theory of OppositesMarybeth: Allison, you were a journalist for a number of years before turning your hand to fiction. It what ways did that prepare you for writing novels? In what ways did it make it harder?

Allison: I can’t think of many ways that it made it harder, but there are many things that made it easier. For one, I understood the discipline that it takes to  write. It’s not a hobby, it’s a job. I learned about deadlines and revisions and exacting standards of editors. I apply all of these things to my fiction work too. Writing is work, whether it’s for a magazine or for a novel. Trust me, there are plenty of times when I’d rather not write or I want to quit before a revision is done, but I learned in my magazine days that it’s not done until it’s  done.  Also, that you have to show up every day and write. For my magazine work, this was because I had editors and contracts. Now, it’s because it’s habit.

Ariel: THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES is the first novel of yours that I’ve read, (I know, I am ashamed) but like all your other books it has a contemporary setting. Why are you drawn to writing about the here and now?

Allison: Ha ha, don’t be ashamed! There are so many great writers and great books out there; we can’t read everything. That’s the truth. I think, to answer your question, that I really enjoy examining what my peers and contemporaries are going through in their own lives. Women who are struggling to find a balance; marriages that need to be reinvigorated; parents who love their kids desperately but don’t always love the parenting aspect of it. Those types of things. I read books to hopefully find something within the pages that resonates with me, and maybe leaves a bit of an imprint, a tweak in my mentality or emotional landscape. I guess by exploring these every day things that we all come up against, I hope to do the same for my readers. There’s a lot about life that can be tough. I like my characters to go through those same struggles that readers do.

Marybeth: You’ve got young children. How has motherhood changed or informed your writing? Are there any challenges that are inherent to this season of life?

Allison: Motherhood has informed my writing in so many ways. Not least is that I often explore the complications of parenting and parenthood in my novels. I think any mother will tell you that it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, but it is also exhausting and fragile and confusing and sometimes breaks your heart. And that’s all okay. And it’s also okay to wonder, as my characters do, how parenthood will change you or if you even want to or need to be changed. My kids are sort of the base note, resonating all the time, in my life. But I also try not to make them my  entire  life. So I enjoy exploring this theme in my books. As far as challenges? Sure, absolutely. I think most working moms can agree that we often leave parts of ourselves behind — when I’m with the kids, I am sometimes thinking about work; when I’m writing, I’m sometimes distracted by what I need to do for them. It’s not as if writers — or working moms, for that matter — can ensconce themselves in a bubble and just pick one thing to be in that moment. I felt this pretty acutely with my last book before Theory — I just felt pulled in too many directions and was exhausted by it. I took a break from writing, spent real quality time with my kids, moved with the family across the country, and sort of gave myself the nurturing I needed. I’m truly, truly fortunate to have the type of job where I can do this — step back, assess, decide how much of myself I want to give to work, etc — but yes, being all things to all people is a challenge. I’ve come to realize that I can’t be all things to all people, and that’s just fine. I give my best. That’s it.

Ariel: You tackle some difficult relationship issues in THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES. Willa and her over-bearing father. Will and her unreliable husband. Why do you think these themes resonate so deeply with women? How is it empowering to address them in story form?

Allison: It’s funny — I have a great relationship with my dad (and my mom, for that matter), and I feel sort of bad that my past few heroines have struggled with paternal figures. It has nothing to do with him. :) But that said, I think a lot of us feel like we are products of our childhoods…we are a generation that spends time in therapy, trying to break the shackles of our early years or trying to, I don’t know, figure out who we are as adults. So maybe that’s why those story lines resonate. As far as the marital/relationship storyline, well, I think in this Facebook age, everyone stares at pictures of their friends or friends of friends or people they barely know and measures their relationship by that yardstick. “Oh, Jon and Kathy look SOOOOO happy in St. Tropez! What am I doing wrong?” And a) I think this kind of comparison is really destructive and ridiculous, b) I think it’s important to realize that no one’s life is shiny and perfect, and c) relationships are complicated, and that’s totally okay. Anyone who has been married for a while — or been in the dating world for a while — or just…wants to find some sort of partner in her life — knows that there are wonderful highs and lows to relationships. That’s how they go. Full stop. And I think women like reading about these highs and lows and knowing that their own partnerships are normal, and that no matter what happens with those relationships, the women themselves, the readers, are  going to be okay.  How empowering is it to pass along that message? So empowering. (I mean, without giving myself too much credit.) But I think, again, in today’s Facebook era, that is more important than ever to be honest about the fact that life and relationships are sticky and messy and sometimes glorious and sometimes much less glorious. That’s how it goes. It’s always nice to hear or read that someone else gets it too.

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Allison Winn Scotch Novels

New to Allison’s novels? Make sure you check out the rest of her backlist. I know I will.

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jojo Moyes

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Jojo Moyes | @JojoMoyes

Don’t forget that today is the last day to enter this months giveaway. See this post for details on how to win all three of Jojo Moyes’ novels.

Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes

I grew up surrounded by art. My parents were artists (they met at art school) and my father later ran a business storing and transporting art, so my earliest memories were spent wandering his warehouse, gazing at the priceless paintings and sculptures through the stretchers and cases. While art was treated reverently, it was also unremarkable, and as a child, having sat under his desk copying the Jackson Pollocks, or Francis Bacons, I would ask why my art wasn’t as valuable as the paintings in the high security area.

It is a question that still preoccupies me. What separates two works that look the same, that just happen to be by two different people?

In my book The Girl You Left Behind, a once-worthless painting becomes the subject of a multi-million pound lawsuit after the artist who paints it becomes fashionable. In the 1900s the painting has huge emotional significance to its subject, as it represents a time when her husband painted her and she was joyously happy.

Unfortunately, it has significance too to the German Kommandant who takes over her hotel, and sees remnants of his life before the war — as well as a woman he finds increasingly compelling.

And decades later, for Liv Halston, its owner, it speaks to her of her late husband and the happiness they shared. Each of these people suffers, and fights to claim this painting as their own.

Sometimes I look at the items in my home that have value to me: a carved figure, a picture by my daughter. What would have value in future years? More importantly, what would I do to keep them? There is no value, except the value that we place on them. To me, the lock of my child’s hair, or their first painting is as important as a Jackson Pollock. I just hope nobody ever offers me the chance to swap.

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The Girl You Left BehindFrom the  New York Times—bestselling author of  Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most

Jojo Moyes’s bestseller,  Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. “Hopelessly and hopefully romantic ” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind? ”

France, 1916:   Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Like Sarah Blake’s  The Postmistress  and Tatiana de Rosnay’s  Sarah’s Key,  The Girl You Left Behind  is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyes’s signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page.

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Lisa Patton

Today’s post by author Lisa Patton | @LisaPattonBooks

We’ve got all three of Lisa’s novels up for grabs today. See the form below for entry details.

Lisa Patton

Lisa Patton

The number one piece of advice I was given when I started this literary journey was, as trite as it sounds, “write what you know, ” even down to the location of the story. So instead of setting my novels in Nashville, the place I currently rest my head (soft pillows only please), I set them in Memphis, the place I was born and spent most of my life. Plus, if truth were told, Memphis needs the PR!

I just published the third book, SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, in my Dixie series, and not only are each of the books stand-alones, I’m also happy to admit there is an element of truth in all three. First off, I really was a Vermont innkeeper! “Was ” being the key word, as three sub-zero winters sent me speeding back down South without so much as a peek over my shoulder. That crazy misadventure left room for numerous thinly veiled accounts that I could add to my debut, WHISTLIN’ DIXIE IN A NOR’EASTER. In particular, my little senior citizen Yorkie, who accompanied me on the move up North, HATED the snow (as did I), not to mention the twenty-five-degree-below-zero temps, so I gave her one of the starring roles in the book. Her name was Holly but she became Princess Grace Kelly, or Gracie for short. Let’s just say tee teeing outside for her was not an option.

Next, in YANKEE DOODLE DIXIE, I really was the promotion director of a top radio station in Memphis and I could bring so many fun, true-to-life radio pranks to my story. Like when Johnny Dial, the morning deejay, tells his listeners a panda escaped from the Memphis Zoo and his partner dresses in a panda suit appearing in various locales around Memphis. That really happened. And people honestly fell for it.

And now in SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, my protagonist, Leelee Satterfield, lives with her second mother Kissie, an eighty-three-year-old African American steel magnolia, who peppers her with advice, whether she asks for it or not. I really had a Kissie in my life that never hesitated to correct me when I veered off the straight and narrow. Without her I never would have learned how to cook, clean or properly wash and fold my laundry. Times were different in the South when I was growing up. Many a white mother held her newborn in her arms for the first time and after coming home from the hospital handed that baby straight over to her black mother. Writing about Kissie was the best part of the SOUTHERN AS A SECOND LANGUAGE odyssey. She died in 2002 but I felt like she was right next to me. I miss her so much, I ache. Creating the character of Kissie brought the real Kissie back to life.

Lisa Patton Books

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Southern As A Second LanguageNot only do Southerners talk slowly, but sometimes the whole language is hard to understand. No one realizes that more than Memphis belle Leelee Satterfield. Since she debuted inWhistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter, Leelee has entertained tens of thousands of readers. Watching her tackle life and love in Vermont was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to antics, charades, mischief, and romance. Now that she’s back in Memphis, and starting a new relationship with Peter, the Yankee chef from her New England inn, you’d think she’d sit back and enjoy her newly crafted life back home in Dixie. But that just wouldn’t be as much fun.

Opening up a new restaurant with Peter isn’t as easy as she had anticipated, especially when it comes to the differences between the North and the South. When Leelee’s ex-husband, Baker, returns unexpectedly, everything else goes haywire. Throw her three crazy best friends into the mix; Riley, her meddlesome next-door neighbor who sells Pampered Chef for a living; and Kissie, Leelee’s beloved second mother who claims Riley sits on her “last raw nerve, ” and you have the perfect recipe for a sassy, Southern delicacy.

Lisa Patton’s  Southern as a Second Language  is an endearing and chuckle-inducing tale that keeps us guessing up to the very last page how it all works out in the end. Whether among maple trees in Vermont or magnolia-filled Memphis, Leelee’s charm, heart, and laughter will delight readers in any climate.

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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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jennifer Chiaverini

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Jennifer Chiaverini | @jchiaverini

We’ve got a copy of Jennifer’s latest novel, THE SPYMISTRESS, up for grabs today. Enter by using the form below.

Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini

Miss Elizabeth Van Lew—a spinster of independent means, a Richmond native, and a proud Virginian—was an unlikely heroine of the Civil War, and yet she was celebrated by Northern generals as “a true Union woman as true as steel ” for risking everything to care for Union prisoners of war and to smuggle crucial Confederate military secrets to the North.

I first discovered the remarkable heroine of my most recent novel, The Spymistress, years ago while researching another Civil War tale. One of my characters, a regimental surgeon in the Union army, was captured at Gettysburg, and when I investigated where he likely would have been taken, all paths led to Richmond’s infamous Libby Prison. Nearly every account I read of that notorious place mentioned Elizabeth Van Lew and the astonishing, audacious risks she took on behalf of the Union captives there. She made such an impression on me that I immediately wrote her into a chapter of that earlier novel, but even as I did, I was convinced that she was so unexpectedly daring, courageous, and clever that she deserved an entire book of her own.

To uncover the truth about Elizabeth Van Lew, I relied upon memoirs and diaries written by Richmond civilians and Union prisoners of war, as well as newspaper reports and official documents from the National Archives. My first and best resource, however, was Elizabeth’s “Occasional Journal, ” an intermittent diary and scrapbook she kept of her wartime experiences. It was really more of a collection of loose papers than a complete, polished memoir, but I was fortunate that any account existed at all, as it was incredibly dangerous for a spy to keep detailed records of her illicit activities. During the war, Elizabeth would hide most of her journal, but she kept certain incriminating pages by her bedside so she could hastily burn them if the house was raided in the night.

After the war, Elizabeth declined an offer to publish a memoir, believing with good reason that doing so would further provoke the anger of her Richmond neighbors, many of whom still resented her for her wartime support of the Union even decades after peace was declared. Instead she hid the manuscript away for many years, revealing its location only upon her deathbed in September 1900. When the box was brought to her from its hiding place, she examined the manuscript and exclaimed, “Why, there is nearly twice as much more. What has become of it? ”

The missing pages, if they truly existed, have never been found, but what remains provides a fascinating if incomplete glimpse into Elizabeth Van Lew’s remarkable wartime adventures—and offered me the inspiration for The Spymistress, a tribute to a Civil War heroine whose name should not be forgotten.

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The SpymistressBorn to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.

Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.

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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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