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The Editor Recommends

Update: We’re delighted to announce that the winner of this giveaway is BILLIE. She has been notified via email. Thanks to all who entered and don’t forget to come back soon. We have a number of giveaways lined up for the future.  

Today’s post by Doubleday editor, Melissa Danaczko | @mad2034

Note: I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Melissa since she acquired my forthcoming novel, THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, for Doubleday last September. I know a bit about her editorial style but very little about her personal reading tastes. So I invited her to share some recommendations with us today: one novel she edited, and one she didn’t. Melissa has kindly offered to give a copy of PARLOR GAMES to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment on this post if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.

Book I edited:

I have a weakness for unreliable narrators, so when Maryka Biaggio’s debut novel, PARLOR GAMES, first hit my inbox, I put it at the very top of my submission pile. Part Becky Sharp, part CATCH ME IF YOU CAN’S Frank Abagnale, this historical romp chronicles the life and times of May Dugas, a beautiful con-artist whose escapades spanned the Gilded Age and took her all around the world.

The novel is framed by a trial occurring in 1917 where an older May finds herself accused of extorting money from a friend—a charge that our alluring protagonist vehemently denies. Fearful that details revealed during this trial will be twisted to make her look like the bad guy, May entreats the reader to hear her version of events. She promises a truthful account, but it’s immediately clear that we’re dealing with a woman who knows how to spin a story, cover her tracks and get what she wants.

May takes on an intimate tone, drawing us into her confidences in such a way that readily explains why so many men (and some women) fell prey to her charms. I have to confess that it’s so fun to be in May’s orbit that it was only after one faintly disquieting revelation after another—about how she’s seduced and swindled, enchanted and entrapped—that I realized the full extent of her transgressions.  She would certainly like us to believe that this is a tale of an innocent corrupted by an unfair world or that she did it all to support her beloved family, but regardless of whether or not the reader buys into these claims, it’s hard not to root for (or at the very least, respect) May as she traipses across countries, hearts and the law.

In a sense, it’s even harder to believe that this novel is based on a true story. As Maryka recently wrote in a blog for Huffington Post, we say that the truth is stranger than fiction so often that it’s become a bit cliché. And yet, it’s a cliché that I find myself constantly gravitating towards in my reading—both for work and for pleasure.  Although very fine plots and characters in historical fiction have been the product of pure invention (after nailing the period detail of course), there is almost a voyeuristic appeal in reimagining a life already lived. Here, we see a glamorous existence lived just a step ahead of the law–until, that is, May’s past catches up with her.

Book I didn’t Edit:

The novel that I didn’t edit falls into a very different category, but features a style that could also justifiably be called unreliable—if only because it’s narrated by a child who bears witnesses to events that she can’t fully comprehend even as she faithfully recounts the sensory detail.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s WE NEED NEW NAMES (on-sale 5/21) opens in a Zimbabwe shantytown in 2008. 10-year-old Darling and her friends spend their days stealing guavas and playing games like “Find Bin Laden “—scenes that so perfectly capture the universal preoccupations of childhood. This coupled with the powerful, pretense-free narration by Darling exposes the distance between how these children see the world and the harsher reality that an adult reader can intuit.

Their homes have been destroyed and the schools shut down amidst political upheaval; deep, gnawing hunger and AIDS have become so ubiquitous that they’re hardly worthy of description but operate forcefully in the background. Luckily for Darling, her aunt lives in America, and the young girl has placed all her hopes in this sparkling country without fully realizing what she’ll sacrifice or the challenges she’ll face when she finally moves to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The book has two distinct parts, and although America stands in such stark contrast to life in Zimbabwe, the bigger gulf is between Darling’s expectations for America and what she experiences once she’s actually there. This is not to say her life in America is marked by tragedy or exploitation that sometimes accompanies this type of novel. Instead, humorous moments mingle with nuanced observations and Bulawayo shifts the tonal register so expertly as Darling navigates the pitfalls of both assimilation and adolescence that it’s an even more gripping read than if there were high-octane drama involved.

Questions of identity and alienation definitely loom large in this novel and there are scenes punctuated with violence and heartbreak, but the characters and plot never feel like part of a message while Darling’s point of view is pretty much pitch perfect to my ear. The only point where Bulawayo breaks this spell is in a powerful chorus-style narration that gives voice to not only those from her country and continent but the full-spectrum of immigration.

Following in the tradition of other novels of displacement, but with a beguiling rawness that’s uniquely its own, WE NEED NEW NAMES is a beautiful and haunting book that provides an intimate window into one young woman’s experiences, overturns preconceived notions and entertains in equal measure. It’s a book that will stay with me long after the last page.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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The Editor Recommends

We’re so excited to have Denise Roy, Senior Editor at Plume and Dutton Books,  back to share her book recommendations.  Denise is very kindly giving away two copies of MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER by Jennifer Chiaverini today. Simply leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered in the drawing.

Denise Roy

Update: the winners of this giveaway are Bonnie and Dana. They have been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

Thank you to the many readers of SheReads who took time out of their busy days to write in about my November post on two contemporary novels. I feel so fortunate to have been invited back again so soon. This time, I’m wearing my historical fiction hat.

I’m especially pleased to introduce a brand-new novel by Jennifer Chiaverini, an author you may know from her New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series. Jennifer and I have been working together since the 1990s (yes, it’s true!), and we’ve enjoyed a wonderful collaboration. We share not only a passion for novels, but for American history as well.

As Jennifer told The New York Times in a recent interview, trails of her research into the Civil War era repeatedly converged around a little-known but, in retrospect, influential woman. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. Her true story is the subject of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, which imparts a truly incredible story of a pair of women whose circumstances were vastly different—yet they shared twin losses; a son and a husband, respectively, as well as the devastating costs of war.

Novels that offer a palpable sense of what life was like in another time are among my absolute favorite, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker weaves fascinating detail into fact-inspired fiction. Ever wonder about the atmosphere in Washington City, District of Columbia, on Election Day 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won the White House? What exhibits were on display in Chicago’s Great Northwestern Sanitary Fair of 1863? How Mary Todd Lincoln became involved in the Old Clothes Scandal? Learn all of this and more in this remarkable journey into the pages of history.

Since I can’t get enough of historical fiction, I also recommend another captivating read, this one a novel that I didn’t publish.

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan also explores the late nineteenth century, taking Paris as its setting. Readers may have been inspired by Edgar Degas’s dance-themed paintings and sculpture, but Buchanan’s take on the artist’s personal muses may come as a surprise.

The novel follows the van Goethem sisters, Antoinette and Marie, who find work in the city’s glittering artistic institutions. Yet as Antoinette is quickly swept-up in her work as an extra in Émile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assomoir—and her romance with a charismatic yet dangerous man she meets on set–Marie finds life as a young dancer at the Paris Opéra punishing both physically and financially. Her encounter with Degas, a patron of the dance, that leads to a second job as his model, where she becomes the subject of drawings, paintings, and sculptures, most famously Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. As both sisters forge complex relationships with the men who changed their lives, their fates spiral in unexpected ways. As an exploration of the heights and depths of the Belle Époque, as well as a portrait of the complex bonds of sisterhood, The Painted Girls fascinates.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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The Editor Recommends

Today’s post by Denise Roy, senior editor for Penguin’s Dutton and Plume imprints.

As the daughter of a librarian, I grew up around books. My mom always had recommendations for her readers that would keep them coming back for more. I’m frequently put to the test on airplanes, when seat-mates see me editing manuscripts, then ask me what to read. At the invitation of She Reads, I’m going to tell you about one book I published, and another that I didn’t.

All the book-loving posts on She Reads tell me that the readers on this site think like I do: They love it when authors invite them into the story, and have them wondering, “What would I do if . . . ”

Speaking of airplanes, just posted this review– “It turns out that you don’t need little TVs on the seat in front of you or internet access 35,000 feet in the air if you have a great, great book. “–of Seré Prince Halverson’s debut novel, The Underside of Joy, that explores what happens when two mothers—one by giving birth; one by marriage—risk everything for the chance to raise the same two children as their own. When I spoke about The Underside of Joy on the Buzz Panel at Book Expo America prior to its publication earlier this year, the media coverage zeroed in on my remark that reading the novel “gave me goose bumps . . . on my face. ”

I got that feeling (try it sometime) because of the excruciatingly suspenseful choices each of the women makes over the course of this novel set in the lush landscape of Northern Califorinia. At first, our sympathy lies with narrator Ella Beene, who has wed Joe as the single father of siblings she believes their mother, Paige, has abandoned. As the novel progresses, Paige’s story begins to emerge, and the reader must parse the truth. What does right look like—could it have two faces?  Two disparate journeys—through fraught family legacies–ultimately converge around the love of two precious children.

Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette ­ is a novel I didn’t publish but recommend every chance I get for its superlative imagination and adventurous spirit. In this book, it’s a daughter, Bee, who is willing to travel from Seattle to the ends of the earth—in this case, Antarctica—to find her beloved mother, Bernadette. An epistolary novel framed by Bee’s first person, the depth of the parent-child bond resonates throughout. “Just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, ” Bee writes of her far-flung mother (and could be said of us all), “it doesn’t mean you can’t try. ”

Denise Roy lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but she’d go anywhere to find a good book. Here she is taking in the American West, Penguin tote at her side. Back in New York, she publishes historical and contemporary fiction for the Dutton and Plume imprints of Penguin Group USA.

THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY just released in paperback and we have ten (yes, ten!) copies up for grabs today thanks to Denise and her generous team at Plume. Leave a comment on this post and we’ll enter you in the drawing.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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