Fiction: A Window Or A Mirror?

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

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

If you read fiction (and please don’t tell me if you don’t because… I’m not sure we can be friends) why do you read it? What do you want out of the story when you open that new book?

I was thinking about this the other day as I ran. (And please understand when I say “the other day” that is a generalization because it has lo been many days since I have run, thanks to all the rain. I hear confession is good for the soul. Hopefully by the time you read this I will have been to that new gym.)

Back to “the other day” when I was running. And thinking. I was thinking about some of the comments I’ve gotten on my new novel THE WISHING TREE. And how some people love my “lighter” books, books that are more romantic and dreamy. And some really like the ones where I dig in and really examine issues.

And I thought about how some people want a window when they read– a way of looking at the world beyond. And some want a mirror– they want to see themselves and the people they love, maybe in a new way or in a way that helps them think differently. There really does seem to be a dividing line among readers as far as what they look for in stories. The window people would tell you they just wanted to be entertained and transported. The mirror people would tell you they want to learn something about the human experience; they want to be challenged

And as I ran (if memory serves), I thought about how the best writing is the kind that is both window and mirror. The kind that shows you a world beyond but also makes you look inside yourself. Maybe that’s what all writers should be aiming for. Maybe it’s the ones who manage it who become the bestsellers, meeting both types of readers right where they are, enticing them with one, but surprising them with the other. And showing them the value in both.

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Picture This: A Visit With Isla Morley

Today’s post from Isla Morley, author of ABOVE | @IslaMorley

Isla Morley

Isla Morley

Finding the right location for ABOVE, as with any story, was pivotal.  Right off the bat, I knew I wanted home base to be a small town, and Eudora, Kansas (where my husband grew up), was the perfect model.  While much of ABOVE centers on the captivity of an abducted teenager, this is principally a story about resiliency and determination, about fighting off menacing forces, unseen forces.  The specific place where Blythe Hallowell was to be kept had to take on the dimensions of some of those forces which meant it couldn’t be a shed or a cellar or a tent out in the woods; it had to be something beastly, something bizarre.  When my husband mentioned that the Midwest is home to many World War II-era nuclear missile silos, I researched the matter and was stunned at the images I found.  Decommissioned shortly after they were built in the early 1960s, these underground engineering marvels are now some of the spookiest places in the world.  While many remain abandoned, flooded and inaccessible, a few have been snapped up by private citizens and turned into novelty homes or survival bunkers.  The Atlas-F missile silo where Blythe is trapped is like an inverted, gutted skyscraper plunging so deep into the earth that at different descents there are different weather conditions.  Nothing on the surface suggests the vast menace below.  No longer housing a missile, the silo has been stocked for waiting out the apocalypse and for seeding the New World.  Its haunting corridors, frightening depths and secret stockpiles add insight into the mindset of a survivalist gone too far, but also serve as characteristics of an indomitable foe.

Processed with Rookie

Missile Silo

Seeing the pictures of those eerie silos, I could easily imagine the effects of being cut off from sunlight and soft prairie breezes, how swiftly the silence would cave in on Blythe, how the terrified voices inside her head would echo through the steel chambers and come back to her as taunts.  The silo very quickly metastasizes from a dungeon to a menacing accomplice. Every time the fluorescent lights snap off, it opens up its long slick throat, gulping.  Blythe must find a way to escape and protect herself from her captor’s insanity, but she must also fight to keep from being devoured.  When she has to raise a child underground, she has to employ all her wits to subdue the beast, and to find room in its bowels for a playground.  Reinventing the truth of their circumstances and repurposing the place where they are kept are last chances to find hope and freedom.

Silo Tunnel

Silo Tunnel

* * *

AboveI am a secret no one is able to tell.

Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Deter­mined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give mean­ing to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promis­ing and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.

ABOVE is a riveting tale of resilience in which “stunning” (Daily Beast) new literary voice Isla Morley compels us to imagine what we would do if everything we had ever known was taken away. Like the bestselling authors of Room and The Lovely Bones before her, Morley explores the unthinkable with haunting detail and tenderly depicts our boundless capacity for hope.

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Book Club Recipe for LOST LAKE

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

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Cremini Mushroom & Toasted Pine Nut Risotto

I didn’t make it very far into Lost Lake, only to Page 2, as a matter of fact, before I knew what I wanted to make for my She Reads March post. This is what stopped me in my tracks.

Over dinner, a meal that had consisted wholly of mushrooms simply because they felt like it, they still couldn’t bring themselves to talk of home yet.

And isn’t that how a honeymoon in Paris should be?

Eby and George’s undying love was evident throughout the book, even when told in flashbacks. I kept reading beyond the second page because I just didn’t want to put this book down, but I couldn’t stop thinking about a dinner centered around mushrooms, even when author Sarah Addison Allen tempted me with fire-grilled steaks, French pastries, and a monstrous chocolate cake that was so large it had to be carried by two men to Eby’s farewell party table.

And then, of course, I was kicking myself for never cooking or consuming a meal of just mushroom dishes. Why didn’t I think of that? I adore mushrooms.

Though it isn’t a French dish, I started toasting pine nuts and slicing cremini mushrooms for a risotto. Here is my recipe, but I am including links to a few other mushroom dishes of mine for anyone who might like to use them for a meal consisting “wholly of mushrooms”.

Mushroom and Onion Tart

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Morel & Sautèed Spring Greens with Morel Crespelle

Cremini Mushroom & Toasted Pine Nut Risotto

Ingredients:

2 T salted butter

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T minced garlic

1/4 c. pine nuts

1/2 c. sliced cremini mushrooms

1 1/2 c. brown rice

3 c. beef broth

3 c. water

2 T fresh minced parsley

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. grated romano cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

In a medium saucepan, combine the oil and butter and place over medium heat until the butter is melted.

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Sautè the garlic in the fats until it’s translucent.

Add the mushrooms and slowly brown them.

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Toss in the pine nuts to toast, stirring constantly.

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As soon as they begin to turn golden brown, add the rice.

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Toast the rice, while stirring, until golden.

Start pouring a little of the broth in at a time, while stirring constantly, until it is absorbed. Add the parsley.

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Continue adding broth and water until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly, about 40 minutes.

Repeat the process with the cream.

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Stir in the cheese before serving. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

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Though time consuming, this method makes a creamy risotto that is worth the wait. The end result is rich and beefy. If you prefer to save time and are willing to sacrifice quality but not lose any of the flavor, you could pour all the broth and water, along with the parsley, into the mixture after the rice is toasted to make a pilaf. Just cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and stir occasionally until the rice is tender.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Sarah Addison Allen

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Sarah Addison Allen | @SarahAddisonAll

SAA Writing Space

Taken during Christmas 2013, this photo shows Sarah’s work space in all it’s festive glory. Clean and crisp, it looks simply perfect, like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog.

What do you think? Can you see her writing LOST LAKE in this room?

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Picture This: A Visit With Therese Walsh

Today’s post by author Therese Walsh | @ThereseWalsh

Photo Credit: Timmetrius at Deviant Art

Photo Credit: Timmetrius at Deviant Art

Will-o-the-wisp lights and synesthesia both played an essential role in sparking one of the original, driving mental images for me as I worked through what would become my second novel, THE MOON SISTERS.

I was a science major in college (I have an M.S. in psychology), and I remain fascinated with unique human behaviors and experiences. As soon as I learned about synesthesia, I knew I wanted to write about it. Synesthesia is a condition characterized by sensory areas that are connected in unique ways; so a person might taste music or see sound, for example. It was writerly catnip for me to imagine what it would be like to create a character with this condition, to anticipate the many ways I might play in the world of someone with sensory enhancements of this kind.

Enter will-o’-the-wisp lights.

I first learned about will-o’-the-wisp lights years ago via a word-of-the-day email. I was so fascinated with the idea of these drifting lights—which sometimes appear over bogs and are thought to lead those who follow to treasure or over a cliff’s edge, depending on the whim of the wisp—that I included them in the draft of a different story. Though I eventually abandoned that half-finished manuscript, the scene I’d written, involving a blind girl and wisp lights over a bog, stuck with me. Some of my critique partners nudged me over that scene, too, and said they hoped that I’d revisit it. While I never evolved the creepy scene they remembered, I did fall back in love with the concept of writing about a blind girl and beckoning lights over a bog.

Something clicked for me when I realized that will-o’-the-wisp lights are also called “foolish fires.” Right away, I imagined a girl with synesthesia staring at the sun, because the sun smelled like her mother, and losing her central vision (becoming legally blind) because of that act. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon a picture on Flickr of a girl who could’ve been my Olivia Moon: she seemed a little haunted and a little chapped, and her eyes looked like they might have seen too much and been a little broken. That shot became my muse photo. Later, my daughter would use the photo to create a hand-drawn work for me; the drawing will likely be a permanent fixture in my office. It is a testament to the power of imagery in imagination.

Drawing of Olivia Moon

Drawing of Olivia Moon

* * *

The Moon SistersThis mesmerizing coming-of-age novel, with its sheen of near-magical realism, is a moving tale of family and the power of stories.

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

* * *

Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in hard cover on March 4th, 2014 by Crown (Random House). Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book.

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a site that’s visited daily by thousands of writers interested in the craft and business of fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, Therese’s favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their Jack Russell. She’s working on her third novel.

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Picture This: A Visit With Kathryn Craft

Today’s post by Kathryn Craft | @kcraftwriter

Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft

A lone leaf, falling from the sky, is not the image I held in my mind as I wrote THE ART OF FALLING—but it’s close enough to stand in for the one that did. Called “The Falling Man,” it’s the image of the unidentified man plunging headfirst from the North Tower the morning of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The image was captured by AP photographer Richard Drew and used widely, often to much controversy.

We don’t need to see it again. Those of us who saw it will forever carry it emblazoned on our souls.

In the photo’s Wikipedia entry, theologian Mark D. Thompson said, “perhaps the most powerful image of despair at the beginning of the twenty-first century is not found in art, or literature, or even popular music. It is found in a single photograph.”

It isn’t known whether the man fell or jumped, but the question of jumping, and the despair that would incite such an action, stuck with me. At what point in our lives is jumping—however dangerous—the only kind of forward movement we can conjure? This man would have died if stuck within the inferno. In leaping, did he seek a different kind of death? Or did he see, in this last desperate leap into the expanse of air stretched before him, a glimmer of hope?

I wanted to turn a dangerous, last-chance maneuver into a story of hope. I wrote the story of Penelope Sparrow, a dancer who wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital room unable to move or remember the accident that landed her there. A witness, the baker from the first floor of her high-rise, soon arrives to tell her what he knows: she landed on his car, which had been parked fourteen stories beneath her penthouse.

The baker, her hospital roommate, the local dance critic, and newspaper readers across the country all want to know what happened out on that balcony. But at first Penelope can only think about taking first steps toward regaining the movement she lost when the rest of the company left for their big-break European tour without her. Can the miracle of her survival—and the support of her first friends outside the dance world—give her new perspective on the body image issues that imploded her career?

Come to think of it, maybe my novel is like the leaf picture, after all. After my first husband’s suicide sixteen years ago, I soothed my frazzled nerves with long quiet walks in autumn’s brilliance. One day I watched up ahead as a leaf let go from the high branch of an oak and when I got beneath it—without breaking my stride—I opened my hand. The leaf landed my palm.

The thought occurred to me that outcomes aren’t always dependent on actions taken in private despair. There are other characters in the story.

Sometimes, it’s not about the leap.

Sometimes it’s about who catches us.

***

The Art of FallingONE WRONG STEP COULD SEND HER OVER THE EDGE.

All Penny ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

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Picture This: A Visit With Sarah Addison Allen

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Sarah Addison Allen | @SarahAddisonAll

Aligator Picture

This old alligator photo has a vintage vibe I called upon when I created the setting for Lost Lake —  a swampy, quirky resort with a heyday long since passed.  This photo was also used as inspiration for the retro feel of the postcards designed exclusively for the book.  You’ll find the postcards, which include some hidden alligator images, sprinkled throughout the pages of Lost Lake.

* Email readers can click here to see the video.

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YA Book Review: Better Off Friends By Elizabeth Eulberg

Today’s post by our YA book reviewer, Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

Better Off FriendsElizabeth Eulberg is the author of four previous contemporary YA titles, and I’ve had her on my radar since I read Revenge of the Girl With a Great Personality (a super funny and actually sweet YA behind the scenes of children’s beauty pageants and the families of the girls who compete).

Eulberg has an ability to tell a great story full of poignant, really valuable moments that also make you laugh out loud. When I saw she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it… especially when I saw it compared to When Harry Met Sally! I mean, come on. Who can resist that?

In Better Off Friends, we get to follow the friendship of Macallan, an eighth grade girl dealing with the still-recent death of her mom, and Levi, an eighth grade boy transplanted from California to Wisconsin. When Macallan is given the task of showing Levi around on their first day of school, she mostly just barely tolerates him until they realize they both love the same quirky British TV show. From there, Levi and Macallan become good friends over the course of the school year.

When high school hits, everybody thinks they’re dating, but they’re still just friends… best friends. The banter between the two of them, and the way they retreat into their own world throughout various situations in the book, is just nothing short of magical in quality. In addition to the alternating point of view between Levi and Macallan as they go back and tell their story, there are also snippets of their present day conversations in between chapters. Eulberg has written a couple of characters here that I would honestly want to hang out with if they were real; they are full of life and so much fun.

The book spans over about four and a half years, which seemed at first like it was moving too quickly, glossing over important things, but by the time I finished I realized the pacing had been perfect – watching Levi and Macallan basically grow up together over those years made the experience even more enjoyable.

Another great thing about Eulberg, and particularly Better Off Friends, is that she tells great stories for a range of YA audiences without profanity or glorified drinking/drug use and sexual situations. This book could be enjoyed by 7th and 8th graders looking forward to good, healthy friendships (and romance) in high school, high school students in the thick of it, college/early career readers reflecting on high school relationships, and moms hoping their kids have people like these in their lives as they navigate young adulthood.

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Author Profile: Erika Robuck

Today’s post by author Erika Robuck | @ErikaRobuck

Erika Robuck is quickly becoming one of the most prolific writers in the publishing business today. She published her first novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, to much acclaim in 2012, and followed it up shortly thereafter with CALL ME ZELDA in 2013. Her third novel, FALLEN BEAUTY, hit bookstores last week and Erika joins us today to share a bit of the novel’s inspiration. Also, thanks to the generous team at NAL, we have all three of her novels up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck

There is a blackening bronze bust of a woman in the corner shadows of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s parlor at her estate, Steepletop. I was struck by it when the docent allowed me to peek into the room while doing research for my novel, Fallen Beauty. I tried to take in the duel pianos, the custom desk, the formal draperies and ornate seating, but my eyes were continuously drawn back to the sculpture. Her presence felt heavy, looming, and dominant, and her black eyes were hypnotic. I interrupted the tour guide’s speech to ask, “Who is she?”

He explained that Sappho was the ancient love poet, teacher, and muse known for her intense female friendships, including lesbian relationships, with her students. Some say she died by throwing herself into the sea when a young sailor rejected her. I knew Millay wrote of Sappho in several poems, and believed herself to be a goddess of sorts, her vocation poetry. Spellbound as I was by the bust, I could imagine the woman herself, and united her to Millay in my subconscious.

Weeks after my visit to Steepletop, I passed a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a church, and was struck in a different way. The statue showed Mary crushing a serpent under her foot, her face a mask of calm, though her tremendous power was evident in her dominance. This light image contrasted with the dark bust of Sappho in my mind, and grew to become the extended metaphor for the women in my novel.

What I wanted to embody through each of my characters—especially the women—was the power they derived from art, including sculpture, poetry, and sewing. In my novel there are many dark and light women, mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers. The moon and the night are prevalent, and the sacred feminine is dominant in all its forms. I also explore the particular cruelty of women as judges and betrayers of one another, and the idea that our criticisms of others are often what we hate and fear most in ourselves.

Fallen Beauty is my darkest and most exploratory novel, but I do hope the reader connects to its powerful female characters. Dark or light, bronze or marble, poet or seamstress, I want the reader to gather a sense of triumph and redemption for all types of women.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Fallen Beauty“Without sin, can we know beauty? Can we fully appreciate the summer without the winter? No, I am glad to suffer so I can feel the fullness of our time in the light.”

Upstate New York, 1928. Laura Kelley and the man she loves sneak away from their judgmental town to attend a performance of the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. But the dark consequences of their night of daring and delight reach far into the future.…

That same evening, Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her indulgent husband hold a wild party in their remote mountain estate, hoping to inspire her muse. Millay declares her wish for a new lover who will take her to unparalleled heights of passion and poetry, but for the first time, the man who responds will not bend completely to her will.…

Two years later, Laura, an unwed seamstress struggling to support her daughter, and Millay, a woman fighting the passage of time, work together secretly to create costumes for Millay’s next grand tour. As their complex, often uneasy friendship develops amid growing local condemnation, each woman is forced to confront what it means to be a fallen woman…and to decide for herself what price she is willing to pay to live a full life.

Erika Robuck Collage

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The Agent Recommends: A Visit With Elisabeth Weed

Today’s post by Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary | @ElisabethWeed

I am particularly fond of today’s guest. She happens to be my literary agent and someone whose reading tastes I trust implicitly. I’ve had the joy of working with Elisabeth for exactly two years now and I can’t imagine any author having a better champion. As part of our ongoing series, I asked her to share two novels with you today, one that she represented and one that she didn’t. It’s a fascinating peek into what captures the attention of an agent on a professional and personal level.

The Moon SistersTHE MOON SISTERS by Therese Walsh

I remember getting Teri’s query for her debut, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY (originally titled UNBOUNDED) weeks after my son was born in the spring of 2008.  I immediately fell in love with her novel and jumped on the phone with her in a sleep deprived state.  Lucky for me, my enthusiasm outweighed my postpartum haze and Teri signed with me. Within days of submitting the novel we were in a bidding war which ended with a two book deal with Shaye Areheart/Crown Books.

The Moon Sisters, which became that second book, tells the story of Olivia and Jazz Moon, two very different sisters, in the wake of their mother’s probable suicide.  Olivia, the younger, free-spirited sister (who has synesthesia—she can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights–something that Teri pulls off magically) is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest. Jazz, the older more practical sister, is forced to follow along and make sure she stays out of trouble. Along the way, these two connect over their family and their loss in a truly heartbreaking and emotionally satisfying way.

Second novels can be hard for authors, but Teri rose to the occasion with The Moon Sisters.  What’s been so exciting for me is to see her push herself to new heights as a writer. I am always fascinated with how books come into existence for an author and knowing that this book was inspired by the true journey of the author and her own two sisters as they recovered from the grief of their dad’s death made it all the more special.  Teri’s attention to language is spot on–reviews have referred to it as “luminous” and I think that is a perfect word for her writing. Put that language to use in the bogs of West Virginia, full of will-o’-the-wisp lights, synesthesia, some train-hopping and a touch of magical realism and you have yourself a really powerful read.

The AccidentTHE ACCIDENT by Chris Pavone

I was first introduced to Pavone (who I actually met back when he was a book editor) with his debut thriller THE EXPATS, a really fun, fast-paced read with a female protagonist who is not exactly what she seems.  It’s such a good page-turner, with so many twists and turns that when I gave it to my husband to read, he dropped the ball on picking up the kids, using the fact that he needed to finish the book before he did anything else.  So, when Pavone’s editor, Zack Wagman, told me that his second thriller was based in the world of publishing, with a female literary agent as its protagonist no less, I stalked him regularly until he sent me a galley.

THE ACCIDENT involves an anonymous manuscript with secrets so dire that everyone from heads of media companies to the CIA are willing to do anything to stop if from coming to light.  So when it lands on literary agent Isabel Reed’s desk, basically everyone in publishing is at risk.  As someone who works in publishing, this was such a fun read. Even though nothing as exciting as the plot happens in real life publishing, the author draws such realistic characters–there’s the eager assistant, the down-on-his-luck editor, the fed up foreign rights agent and the slimy film agent–who all want a piece of this story, without making any of them cliched. And, of note, I made my husband read this as well, and he loved it so I would say you are in for a treat regardless of where you work.

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