Summer Reading Series: Mary Kubica

Today’s post by Mary Kubica | @MaryKubica

We’re delighted to have Mary Kubica with us today for the second installment of our summer reading series. If you missed last week’s post, you can read it here. And if you loved Mary’s debut novel, THE GOOD GIRL, don’t forget to preorder a copy of her new novel, PRETTY BABY. It releases July 28th.

Summer Reading Series

Admittedly I don’t get much writing done in the summer. Between having my two kids home from school for the summer months and a July book launch for the second year in a row, writing falls by the wayside this time of year. But there’s nothing I enjoy quite as much as bringing a book along to the park or beach, or slipping outside on a quiet summer afternoon to read, and it’s this time of year that I get to make up for all the lost reading time that I miss out on the other nine months, when writing is my top priority. And this year, I’ve got a great lineup of books to read, including a few from my favorite authors, and some whose writing I get to enjoy for the very first time.

Of all the books on my summer reading list, Lori Nelson Spielman’s SWEET FORGIVENESS is certainly at the top. I’ve been a fan of Lori’s since reading her touching and enormously successful debut, THE LIFE LIST, and can’t wait to consume what’s sure to be another heartwarming hit, the story of a talk show host’s journey to make amends with her mother. By the same token, Erika Robuck and SJ Watson have both captivated me with their earlier works, and I can’t wait to get my hands on their latest: Robuck’s THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE, a story about the life and marriage of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, and Watson’s SECOND LIFE, a psychological thriller dealing with secret identities and how much we really know about the people in our lives. Watson’s first novel, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, is without a doubt one of the greatest psychological thrillers I’ve read. I can’t wait to see what he’s conjured up this time; I know it’s going to be brilliant. And Robuck’s seamless writing and ability to bring historic icons back to life captivated me with HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and I’m absolutely sure she’s going to do it again with THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE.

There are a few authors on my summer reading list that I have yet to read, though their books are already getting rave reviews. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s New York Times Bestselling BITTERSWEET and Nicole Baart’s THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS are just a few of them. From what I’ve heard, both novels have all the elements of a good mystery that I enjoy – secrets, lies and betrayal – coupled with tales of friendship and young women’s journeys to self-discovery. Both books have received many plaudits already; I can’t wait to discover them for myself!

My list could go on and on, but knowing that summer will be here and gone before we know it, it’s time I grab a book, step outside and revel in the warm sun and the slower pace of life while it lasts. Whatever is tucked away in your beach bag to read this summer, I hope you enjoy!

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Pretty BabyA chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies in this stunning new psychological thriller from national bestselling author Mary Kubica 

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

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

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

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Author to Author: The Dreams Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Cynthia Swanson and Bridget Foley | @CynSwanAuthor and @WonderFoley

Today we have part two of our interview series with Cynthia Swanson and Bridget Foley and can I just say one word: WOW. This is why we love this series so much. It’s more than getting at the heart of a great novel, it’s getting at the heart of an amazing person. And I’m certain this interview will leave you amazed and eager to read both THE BOOKSELLER (if you haven’t already) and HUGO & ROSE. I know that I won’t ever view dreams the same way again.

Dreams Collage

Cynthia Swanson: What an intriguing concept you tackle in “Hugo & Rose.” I was immediately drawn into the idea that a recurring character from one’s dream life could make his way into one’s actual life. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Bridget Foley: It’s so cheesy. I had a dream.

It’s funny to me, because I consider myself to be a very grounded, practical person. But one morning in 2008, I woke up after having the most vivid dream. I was talking to a man in a small, enclosed space playing with a wet chain between my feet. The way we were talking, it felt like we had known each other our entire lives. We were so comfortable and happy in each other’s company. (His name by the way was not Hugo.) Just as I was waking up, he asked me to follow him out of the ceiling of the room we were in and just before I woke up I got a glimpse of a pink stretch of beach and glowing city in the distance.

After I woke up, I sat with my husband and son having coffee. I kept thinking about how real the man in my dreams had been and what it would mean for me to meet him in real life. And my first thought, sitting there, happy with my family was, “how inconvenient!”

It occurred to me that there are times in your life when you are open to meeting the man in your dreams, but after a certain point meeting such a man could only serve to mess up your whole world.

Cynthia Swanson: I love the metaphor this story creates – that when dreams come face to face with reality, the result often falls short of our expectations. This generally happens with a “daydream” sort of dream. We speculate that if we were richer, thinner, smarter (or whatever else we most desire), our lives would be complete. In Rose’s world, the idea of being a better version of herself (and of Hugo being an improved Hugo) occurs in her actual, sleeping dreams; reality happens when Rose and Hugo are awake. And yet — without revealing too much — wide-awake Rose does indeed become a better version of herself by the end of the story. How do you feel Rose’s experience of meeting and getting to know the real-life Hugo shapes her transformation over the course of the novel?

Bridget Foley: It’s the greener grass phenomenon, isn’t it? While HUGO & ROSE takes it into a more metaphysical direction, I think everyone experiences emotions akin to what Rose goes through.

While I was working on the book, it came out that the word “Facebook” is in a great majority of divorce papers. People fall prey to wondering about the path not taken, and now that technology has allowed us access to our old crushes current (but carefully curated) lives I think there are a lot of people who are contrasting their reality with the fantasy of “what might have been.”

But just like when you actually meet-up with that old boyfriend you’ve been flirting with a bit too much online, the reality doesn’t stack up to the fantasy. You see the wrinkles and the fat roles, the depression and the alcoholism. I love what Rita Hayworth said about this, “They go to sleep with Gilda, and they wake up with me.” Nobody can ever live up to anyone’s fantasy of them.

Cynthia Swanson: As you’ve noted, both of our books take place in Colorado. I know you live in Washington State now. What compelled you to set HUGO & ROSE in Colorado, rather than in your current state?

Bridget Foley: There was a passage in the book, that needed to be cut sadly, but which describes one of the reasons I set the book in Colorado:

… unconscious millions respirating in their beds, faces pressed into pillows, mouths open, freeing small slicks of drool. They may be alone or coupled, under a thousand thread count or atop a dirty towel, but at 2 AM mountain standard time most of what makes the citizenry of the western hemisphere of the world is asleep.

At 2 AM, the blanket of night is draped across the spine of the Rockies, covering the reaches of a sleeping nation.

Half-a-world of dreamers dreaming.

In large part the book is about what happens to people during the third of their lives they spend sleeping, and postulates that our minds are reaching out while we dream. Colorado, in the center of North America, seemed to me to be a hub for dreaming minds.

Colorado’s dryness is also a fantastic contrast to the Hugo’s lush green island, which supports the juxtaposition of Hugo and Rose’s physical and fantasy selves.

Plus, and this is just as good an answer as any, I grew up in Colorado and I want to read more books that take place there. It is a wonderful place.

Cynthia Swanson: I’m often asked if  THE BOOKSELLER is autobiographical. It’s not, though the seed of something small that happened to me gave me the inspiration to write this book. On that note, is there any part of “Hugo & Rose” that’s autobiographical?

Bridget Foley: This is a difficult question for me. Since I’m a screenwriter, I constructed Rose’s character to serve the plot. Her disappointment with herself and her struggles were built out of what I felt would be the result of having such an inescapable image of what her best self might be.

However over the past year and a half I have come to understand Rose in a way I didn’t think would ever be possible. In 2013, just as HUGO & ROSE was heading to publishers, I had identical twin girls. Sadly my daughter Giddy died when the girls were only 19 days old.

By very sad happenstance HUGO & ROSE found a home at St. Martin’s Press only three days later.

Grief has drawn me closer to Rose than I could have ever imagined. Just like Rose I will now watch someone grow up in my dreams.

Child loss is a difficult subject- it makes every one uncomfortable, those who have lost children most of all- but I’ve decided to talk about my loss publicly because it is also very isolating.

Just like Rose, parents who have survived their children also have these palpable shadow lives in which accompany them every day. “What would it be like if she were here?” The “could-of-been” is unshakeable.

So I guess the answer to question of if it is autobiographical, is no… but it has become more so.

Cynthia Swanson: Do you identify with Rose? Even if (I’m guessing!) your dreams haven’t taken you on as wild a path as Rose’s?

I am blessed with a pretty rich dream life- at least the ones I can remember. And I would have to say that my dreams are actually wilder than Hugo & Rose’s (which means they’re pretty wild) but real dreams are pretty difficult, not to mention boring, to convey to other people. I sometimes wish dreams had as clear a narrative structure as Hugo’s island.

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Hugo and RoseRose is disappointed with her life, though she has no reason to be – she has a beautiful family and a perfectly nice house in the suburbs. But to Rose, this ordinary life feels overshadowed by her other life – the one she leads every night in her dreams.

After a childhood accident, Rose’s dreams take her to a wondrous island fraught with adventure. On this island, she has never been alone: she shares it with Hugo, a brave boy who’s grown up with her into a hero of a man.

But when Rose stumbles across Hugo in real life, both her real and dream worlds are changed forever. Here is the man who has shared all of her incredible adventures in impossible places, who grew up with her, even if they aren’t what either one imagined. Their chance encounter begins a cascade of questions, lies, and a dangerous obsession that threatens to topple everything she knows. Is she willing to let go of everything she holds dear to understand their extraordinary connection? And will it lead her to discover who she truly wants to be?

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Author to Author: The Dreams Edition

Today’s post by Cynthia Swanson and Bridget Foley | @CynSwanAuthor and @WonderFoley

One of our favorite recent trends in fiction is the use of dreams to create an alternate life for a character. This technique is particularly powerful when that character then has to choose between these lives. Cynthia Swanson, author of THE BOOKSELLER (one of our spring book club selections) and Bridge Foley, author of HUGO AND ROSE, have both written such masterful–and different–novels using this technique that we asked them to participate in our Author to Author series. We hope you enjoy this fascinating glimpse behind the storytelling curtain. And don’t forget to come back on Thursday for part two.

Dreams Collage
Bridget Foley: First of all I have to confess I had a very special connection with “The Bookseller.” I grew up in a suburb of Denver and spent a great deal of time performing at the theater in the neighborhood where Sisters’ Bookshop is located. It was great fun for me to “time travel” through a neighborhood I’ve actually been in. Your book has such a deep sense of place and time, I was wondering how you approached researching Colorado in the early 60s.

Cynthia Swanson: Unlike you, I’m not a native Coloradan – but I’ve been here for 22 years, and Colorado (Denver in particular) is home. The Bookseller was always set in Denver, and pretty much always set in the 1960s. (Initially I set the story in the present day, but I realized shortly into a first draft that a historical setting would work best for this book.) When writing my first draft, I did no research. I went on instinct, took a lot of notes, and made a lot of guesses. I live near where Sisters’ would have been, so I walk, bike, and drive daily on the streets that Kitty/Katharyn would have traveled. While a lot has changed, being in the midst of the story’s locale helped me envision it.

When I was ready to do actual research, I spent countless hours in the Western History Department at the Denver Public Library, studying newspapers on microfilm, old maps, telephone books, and other historical documents. I read (and scrutinized the photos in) every book on Denver history that I could find. A book group I know whose members are a bit younger than Kitty/Katharyn – mostly in their 70s and 80s – also provided wonderful memories of what it was like to be a young woman in the 1960s.

Bridget Foley: I was fascinated by “The Bookseller’s” use of color. You are a very visual writer, which isn’t surprising considering your background as a designer. The candy colored hues of the mid-century saturate the book but I noticed that Kitty and Katharyn’s worlds express color in very different ways; Kitty’s a brightly colored bohemian in a more washed out world, while Katharyn wears a more muted palate in a very colorful setting. I’m curious to know how design informed your character choices.

Cynthia Swanson: I love color. I like to experiment with color combinations and see the variances in how one hue plays off another – which is something Kitty does, and Katharyn seems to have an instinct for it in her home (and by the end of the story begins to incorporate into her wardrobe). And of course it’s no accident that Lars is an architect; that was my career aspiration during my first few years of college. So I live vicariously through him, too.

Bridget Foley: Piggybacking on that question; I noticed as Kitty/Katharyn comes closer to finding out which world is her “true” one, you used personal style signifiers to begin to unify her two selves, namely Kitty changes her hair and Katharyn decides she wants to change the way she dresses. I love it when authors reward close readers with subtle details like that! And it is true that women (much more than men) use changes in their appearance to alert the world to bigger life transitions; I know that if I get a hankering to chop off my hair (or dye it a crazy color) there’s probably something big on the horizon. Do you have any personal experience with this ‘phenomenon’?

Cynthia Swanson: That’s probably true for a lot of women, but not so much for me. I tend to change my environment more than my looks. Maybe this is a Colorado thing; as you know, women here generally have a fairly casual, laidback style. I’m a typical Denverite in that I enjoy making a fashion statement but not at the expense of comfort. When it comes to my home, however, it’s a different story. I’ve lived in homes with many different styles, and I love to change things up to suit the mood of a space. Design is something I play around with a lot more than I do with my hair or makeup.

Bridget Foley: Without giving too much away, your book highlights the huge leaps we have made as a society in the treatment of children with disabilities, autism in particular. What drew you to that particular aspect of Katharyn’s story?

Cynthia Swanson: I was interested in exploring autism from a historical perspective. In the early 1960s, an autism diagnosis was rare, although of course plenty of autistic children were around then, as they are now. On a personal level, I have a loved one born in the 1940s whom many (myself included) always thought may have been undiagnosed autistic. I remember in particular her mother’s guilty feelings about her daughter’s condition; she was sure that her daughter “was the way she was” because of something she (my loved one’s mother) had done. I hope I handled this issue sensitively in The Bookseller. Through Katharyn’s struggles to understand her son and her own feelings about his condition, I wanted to highlight how far we’ve come – although of course there’s still a long way to go.

Bridget Foley: While both of our books utilize an alternate life as a response to trauma (again, trying to avoid spoilers!) they certainly do it in very different ways! While my protagonist’s dream self is what she considers to be her “ideal,” neither Kitty not Katharyn’s life is what anyone would consider perfect. I would describe “The Bookseller” as an exploration on the different costs of the path not taken. Was this the inspiration for the book?

Cynthia Swanson: It certainly played into it. As I say to my kids, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” In other words, we can only control so much about what happens in our lives. Random, seemingly small events can change the entire course of one’s future. And no matter what our social media feeds might imply, no one has a perfect life – not us, not our friends, and definitely not (as you also noted in your answers to my questions) our exes. The key isn’t to try to control what happens, but rather to learn to respond with grace when life throws curve balls our way.

* * *

The BooksellerA provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

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Summer Reading Series: Karen White

Today’s post by New York Times Bestselling author, Karen White | @KarenWhiteWrite

We’re doing something a little different this summer. We’re taking a break. We will be taking our kids to the pool and reading books in the park. We will walk the dogs. We will catch fireflies and eat popsicles and set off fireworks. We will make good use of our local libraries and independent bookstores. We will grill out and make homemade ice cream. But we will not have our typical book club selections this summer. (Don’t worry, we’ll return to our regular schedule in August) Instead we decided to ask some of our favorite authors what THEY are reading this summer and then share those books with you. We thought it would be a nice change of pace. So to kick off our Summer Reading Series we have the kind, talented, and prolific Karen White sharing four books that are in her beach bag this summer.

Summer Reading Series

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. For the record, I selected this book before it won the Pulitzer!  It was recommended to me again and again by writers I admire so I bought it. I’ve already started the first few chapters—but my own book deadline got in the way and I’ve had to put it aside. I hate it when my life interrupts my reading time!

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. I’ve always admired this author and I went to a local book signing to get a signed copy and to meet her. I loved listening to her story of her evolving career as well as the story of how the book came about. It’s set in my favorite time period (WWII) and can’t wait to sink my teeth into it!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Mostly because I’m apparently the only person on the planet who hasn’t read this book or seen the movie. And my daughter told me I need to read it.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. I love the setting (Scotland!) and the background of the book (Loch Ness Monster!) and I adored WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Seems like a win-win-win!

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The Sound Of GlassThe New York Times bestselling author of A Long Time Gone now explores a Southern family’s buried history, which will change the life of the woman who unearths it, secret by shattering secret.

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

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What We’re Into: May Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

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The Flotsam and Jetsam of Life

Marybeth: This month I’ve been into what a lot of moms are into– wrapping up the school year. I finished my teaching commitment, celebrated my third child’s graduation and senior prom, cheered when my fourth child got her driver’s permit, and schlepped children back and forth to nightly swim practices as our neighborhood league got back into full swing. I celebrated a birthday, Mother’s Day, and the opening of our neighborhood pool–always one of the highlights of my year!

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Ariel: And speaking of Mother’s Day, I got to participate in one of my favorite traditions: leaving all the children with my husband and going with my mother and sister for an all-day movie marathon. Because of show times and several movies being sold out we were only able to watch two instead of three but I very much enjoyed The Avengers and Woman in Gold. Apart from that, I got all the boys out of school and though I tried, I still failed to have a decent plan in place before summer break began. But the onset of summer vacation has created a new and unexpected tradition: my 10-year-old has decided to take a picture of the sunset for me every evening. Mostly I suspect he just wants to play with my phone. But still, the results have been rather stunning.

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Book Launch Parties!

Marybeth: I attended my friend Kim Wright’s launch party for her book The Canterbury Sisters. It was a garden party theme and I was able to snap some photos in the beautiful garden.  (Speaking of gardens, I’ve been really into long walks almost daily, usually armed with my camera so I can snap trees, flowers, clouds, creeks, etc. that I pass as I walk.)

Ariel: I had the amazing privilege of co-hosting the launch of my dear friend JT Ellison’s new novel, What Lies Behind. It’s such a great novel and we had such a fabulous time at Parnassus Books. The writing community in Nashville is supportive and engaged and I am blessed to be a part of it.

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Writing

Marybeth: I’ve been faithfully writing my 1000 words (most) every day. And I love this advice from Annie Dillard:

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Ariel: I finished a novel and began my edits so I am currently knee deep in story guts. It’s a good thing I like this part of the process otherwise I would despair. Editing is like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. Change one thing and everything else unravels.

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Television:

Marybeth: my husband and I caught the finale of The Blacklist, binged on the second season of Broadchurch (thought it was even better than the first), and we are tuning into the new shows Aquarius on NBC and Wayward Pines on Fox. I also finally saw Still Alice,but didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. Another thing I’ve been into is a show called The Big Interview with Dan Rather on the AXS channel. I’ve watched interviews with Lindsey Buckingham, Annie Lennox, Josh Groban, Kenny Rogers, Trisha Yearwood, and Paul Haggis. These creative people never fail to inspire me. 

Ariel: not much to report here. I’m halfway through this season of The Blacklist but I can’t finish until Hulu Plus decides to stream the remaining episodes. My husband and I started watching House of Cards and I realize why everyone raves about it (the brilliance lies in the fact that Kevin Spacey makes you, the viewer, a co-conspirator in his machinations) but to be honest I didn’t have the heart to keep going after about eight episodes. They’re all just such terrible people. At some point this summer I’ll spend a day with two good friends and binge watch the second half of Outlander (I don’t have Starz). It’s quite different than the book in some regards but I think they’ve made a brilliant adaptation and my respect for what Diana Gabaldon has created has only grown.

Music

Marybeth: Annie Lennox’s rendition of Downtown Lights originally done by my all-time favorite group– The Blue Nile– has been on repeat play for me. And I’ve been listening to Brandon Flowers’ new album The Desired Effect and Toad the Wet Sprocket’s New Constellation while I walk.

Ariel: honestly, I’m still listening to my go-to Mumford and Sons Pandora station. I keep it on when I’m cleaning or folding laundry or working on my computer. But I am rather in love with my workout playlist because it has everyone from Pink to Fun to Survivor (I mean really, what good is a playlist without Eye of the Tiger?)

Books

Marybeth: Of course I’ve been reading! At She Reads we’re always reading ahead– so that means right now I’m reading books to consider for fall selection. I won’t say what those books are (gotta keep you in suspense!) but I will say I’ve been listening to Laura Lane McNeal’s Dollbaby and Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar on audio after meeting both of them at the South Carolina Book Fest this month. But honestly, I’d be thrilled if I could spend my entire summer reading in this spot:

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Ariel: now that I’ve finished my Hindenburg novel I can read for fun again. And I can read in my genre. I’ve been hoarding books for a year and have more than I can count on my to-read pile. In particular I’m looking forward to diving into Dead Wake by Erik Larson, At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain, and I’ve been saving Jasper Fforde’s entire Thursday Next series for this summer.

Your turn, what have YOU been into this month?

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Cynthia Swanson

Today’s post by Cynthia Swanson, author of THE BOOKSELLER | @CynSwanAuthor

This is the last installment of our spring authors’ writing spaces. Although very different, all three rooms have a certain tranquility and creativeness to them. This office belongs to Cynthia Swanson, author of THE BOOKSELLER and to me it seems light-filled and cozy. I’d write here in a heartbeat. Don’t forget to take a look at Marisa de los Santos and Jane Shemilt’s writing spaces if you missed them the first time.

Cynthia Swanson Office

 

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Book Club Recipe for The Daughter

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

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I don’t have a daughter, but I do have teen sons, which made Jane Shemilt’s novel The Daughter hit pretty close to home. It’s hard to imagine losing a child, but the fact that Jenny, the heroine of the story, had no idea what had become of her child through most of it, kept me on edge well after I’d turned the last page. It was extremely difficult to watch Jenny agonize through her search for answers.

When she began to learn in the months following her daughter’s disappearance that things were just not right, even before disaster hit her busy family, Jenny was shocked to realize just how dysfunctional her family’s life had really always been, from an unfaithful husband to a resentful son. But until the horrible night Naomi disappeared, the day-to-day job of parenting, making sure all her children were safe, happy, and fed, was comforting to Jenny. And when all three of her children were locked safely indoors at the end of each day, even while her husband might not be, Jenny could finally relax and feel peace settle over her.

“Four ounces of butter and four ounces of sugar, soft drift of flour, brilliant yellow egg yolks. Sharp white apple flesh cut into the baking pan, batter poured on top, into the oven. Another kind of automatic…”

I was curious about the apple cake Jenny seemed to effortlessly toss together for her family, as if she’d done it a thousand times. What exactly is “a soft drift of flour,” I wondered. So I set out to see if I could finish the parts of the recipe that weren’t spelled out in the book to make a moist and sweet apple cake of my own, with apple slices on the bottom and batter poured over the top, like Jenny’s. I used raw sugar in the recipe because the freckles on Naomi’s arms always reminded her mother of “light gold…grains of demerara sugar.”

Apple Cake

Ingredients:

4 oz. salted butter (1 stick or 1/2 c.)

4 oz. demerara sugar (a little more than half a cup for those without a kitchen scale)

2 eggs yolks

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

“Soft drift of flour…” (I used 1 cup of all-purpose flour)

1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 c. cream

App. 2 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples

3 T salted butter

1/2 c. demerara sugar

Confectioner’s sugar or cinnamon for garnish

Method:

Heat oven to 350 F.

Melt the 3 T butter in a 9″ round cake pan. I put mine under a broiler. Sprinkle in 1/2 c. demerara sugar. Spread around the bottom of the pan.

 

Line the buttered and sugared pan with apple slices. Set aside.

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Cream the 4 oz. of butter. Add the 4 oz. demerara sugar and whip to combine. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

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Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Add the sifted dry ingredients, alternately with cream to the creamed mixture.

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Beat well.

Pour the batter over the apples, butter, and sugar in the pan.

 

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out of the center clean, and the top is puffed and golden brown.

Immediately invert onto a cake plate.

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Let it cool a bit before dusting with confectioner’s sugar or cinnamon.

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Serve.

Yield: 8 to 16 servings

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Light As A Spring Breeze: A Roundup

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Sometimes we don’t want our fiction to be about anything heavy– no wars or murders or politics. We want fun, friendship, laughter. We want breezy, light, refreshing. So today we’re sharing a roundup of books that fit the bill just in time for spring.

The Girls of Mischief BayThe Girls of Mischief Bay by Susan Mallery

Nicole Lord wants to be a good wife, but there’s a difference between being supportive and supporting her husband, who quit his job to write a screenplay she’s never seen. He won’t even help take care of their son, leaving Nicole to run the house and work full-time.

Sacrificing a personal life for her career is how Shannon Rigg became VP at her firm, but she wonders now whether she made the right choice. An exciting new relationship with a great guy convinces her that it might not be too late—until he drops a bombshell that has her questioning whether she really can have it all.

Although Pam Eiland adores her husband, she feels restless now that the kids are grown. Finding sexy new ways to surprise him brings the heat and humor back to their marriage, but when unexpected change turns her life upside down, she’ll have to redefine herself. Again.

Through romance and heartbreak, laughter and tears, the girls of Mischief Bay will discover that life is richer with friends at your side.

The Art of Baking BlindThe Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan 

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

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

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

Second Chance FriendsSecond Chance Friends by Jennifer Scott

Karen Freeman, Melinda Crocker, and Joanna Chambers have never met—but every morning they get their coffee at the Tea Rose Diner.  Karen stops in on her way to the office job she’s held for more than twenty years, wondering how her sweet-faced boy turned into a misguided young man.  EMT Melinda fuels up for her days helping others, after nights spent worrying her fear of having children could drive her husband away.  And Joanna, with her long blonde hair and bohemian flair, digs into the Boston cream pie and hides—from her friends, from her family, and most importantly, from herself.

Their paths may have never crossed. But one morning, on the lawn of the Tea Rose, the three women collide during a searing event in the life of twenty-something Maddie Routh. In the nine months that follow, they return to the spot over and over. To discover what it means to be a mother, a wife, a lover, a friend. To find Maddie Routh. And to find themselves.  Despite the challenges they’ve faced, these four women unite to show us second chances do exist, if only we have the courage to see them.

Haven LakeHaven Lake by Holly Robinson

Sydney Bishop hasn’t returned to Haven Lake, her idyllic childhood home, since a pair of shocking, tragic deaths shattered her family when she was only sixteen. Now a child psychologist engaged to marry a successful surgeon, Sydney has worked hard to build a relationship with Dylan, her fiancé’s teenage son, so she feels nothing but empathy when he runs away—until she discovers that his hitchhiking journey has led him to Haven Lake and her mother Hannah’s sheep farm.

Sydney returns to Haven Lake for the first time in twenty years to coax the boy home. Against her daughter’s wishes, Hannah offers to take Dylan in until he’s ready to reveal his own troubling secrets. Now, for Dylan’s sake as well as their own, Sydney and Hannah must confront the devastating events that tore them apart and answer the questions that still haunt their family—and the suspicious surrounding community—about what really caused two people to die on their farm those many years ago.

The Happy Hour ChoirThe Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick

From debut author Sally Kilpatrick comes a hopeful tale of love and redemption in a quiet Southern town where a lost soul finds her way with the help of an unlikely circle of friends…

Life has dealt Beulah Land a tough hand to play, least of all being named after a hymn. A teenage pregnancy estranged her from her family, and a tragedy caused her to lose what little faith remained. The wayward daughter of a Baptist deacon, she spends her nights playing the piano at The Fountain, a honky-tonk located just across the road from County Line Methodist. But when she learns that a dear friend’s dying wish is for her to take over as the church’s piano player, she realizes it may be time to face the music. . .

Beulah butts heads with Luke Daniels, the new pastor at County Line, who is determined to cling to tradition even though he needs to attract more congregants to the aging church. But the choir also isn’t enthusiastic about Beulah’s contemporary take on the old songs and refuse to perform. Undaunted, Beulah assembles a ragtag group of patrons from The Fountain to form the Happy Hour Choir. And as the unexpected gig helps her let go of her painful past–and accept the love she didn’t think she deserved–she just may be able to prove to Luke that she can toe the line between sinner and saint. . .

Senseless Acts of BeautySenseless Acts of Beauty by Lisa Verge Higgins

Tess has a secret: For fifteen years she has been furtively following the life of the daughter she gave up as an infant for adoption. But when Sadie runs away from home determined to find her birth mother, Tess has no choice but to hunt down the desperate girl in the one place she dreads—Pine Lake, where a terrible, buried secret threatens to destroy them both.

 Who is your go-to author for a lighter, fun read?

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A Room of Her Own: The Writing Space of Jane Shemilt

Today’s post by Jane Shemilt, author of THE DAUGHTER | @JaneShemilt

We’ve shared a number of amazing author offices over the last few years but I’m pretty sure that Jane Shemilt takes the cake with this one. It looks like every writer’s daydream. What do you think:

Writing Room

This is what Jane has to say about her writing space:

There is also a shot of my writing room; we recently had this room painted and it is a lovely space to write in; you will see if you look hard that my daughter’s spaniel is curled up on one of the chairs, he always keep me company!

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The Truth About That Tricky Balancing Act

Today’s post by Jane Shemilt, one of our featured spring authors | @JaneShemilt

Jane Shemilt“Balance” conjures up a picture of a tightrope walker, precariously wobbling on a high wire, leaning to one side then the other, wondering how much she can hold in each hand without tipping. A little like every woman going out to work and running a family.

As a doctor I used to leave home early, stepping into another world and a different identity; one with responsibility and respect as well as fantastic receptionists making me cups of coffee to see me though. I’d cross back in the evening; at home, my bags went in the corner without a second glance and I focused on kids, homework, husband, supper. Family stuff. Life had order and balance.

It’s all changed now. I am in awe of the many mothers and writers who manage this brilliantly but I don’t think I could have written when the children were very young; when I write, all that exterior order and balance seems to disappear. I look up sometimes and its 3 pm, I’m still in pajamas and the dog is whining for a walk. I love that sense of total immersion, of being so involved I forget all about coffee and often lunch. Sometimes I work most of the night, when the house is quiet, and the dog is snoring in the chair. My five children are older now; most have left home. The remaining son orders the groceries online, my daughter cooks. My husband reads my work. They keep me sane. Life seems to have gone full circle; if it wasn’t for my family, I’d be sleep deprived and hypoglycaemic; I’d probably have fallen off that tight rope by now.

I look back on my doctor life with gratitude for the privilege and for the stories; also for the inspiration. I started a diploma in creative writing while still working as a general practitioner; after a while I began to think about starting a novel. The theme came to me in the surgery as I sat opposite a woman who had lost a child. She’d kept going as people do and it was precisely that, the ability to soldier on with all the stuff of everyday life in the face of grief that was inspirational. I began to see that this is what all my patients did with all the losses that life brings, from trivial to huge. I had the core of my novel, The Daughter.

The plot took a little longer and emerged once I’d started on a Masters course in creative writing at Bath Spa University. I began to play with a basic fear that I felt would be shared by readers: the horror of a missing child.

Then the challenge lay in threading the plot through the story, so readers would want to turn the pages and yet be able to go deep down into the mind and the life of the protagonist.

Once again, it was all down to balance.

* * *

The DaughterIn the tradition of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Ruth Rendell, this compelling and clever psychological thriller spins the harrowing tale of a mother’s obsessive search for her missing daughter.

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

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