The Books of Winter

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Book of Winter Banner 2

January came quickly. And it isn’t always easy to get back in the groove after a long break. Especially when the new year brings a flurry of new activity. But there is one thing that we can’t wait to do: announce the four novels we’ve selected as our Books of Winter. These novels that include historical (THE MAGICIAN’S LIE by Greer MacAllister), literary, (MERCY SNOW by Tiffany Baker), magical realism (THE DRESS SHOP OF DREAMS by Menna Van Praag), and suspense (THE GOOD GIRL by Mary Kubica). While we’ve curated a wide range of novels, they all have one thing in common: great storytelling. And we feel certain that these novels will help you get your reading resolutions off to a great start.

Five lucky readers have the chance to win all four novels in our Books of Winter series. See the entry form below.

As always we’ll be hearing from these authors over the next three months in a variety of ways: guest posts, interviews, and glimpses into their offices. We’ll hear about their writing processes and how they juggle their careers and families. This is a series we are very much looking forward to and we hope you’ll visit back frequently and join in the discussion.

But for now, a bit more about our winter book club selections:

The Magician's LieThe Magician’s Lie by Greer MacAllister

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder —and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Read an excerpt from THE MAGICIAN’S LIE.

Add this book to your Goodreads list.

Mercy SnowMercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

“Strength and quiet beauty mark Baker’s writing . . . Mercy Snow provides an authentic universe of damaged souls and a fantastical heroine.” — Anita Shreve, Washington Post

In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake.

June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne’er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her–and the town–nothing but grief.

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town’s past.

Read an excerpt from MERCY SNOW.

Add this book to your Goodreads list.

the dress shop of dreamsThe Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Read an excerpt from THE DRESS SHOP OF DREAMS.

Add this book to your Goodreads list.

9780778316558_RHC_SMP.inddThe Good Girl by Mary Kubica

“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.” 

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….

Read an excerpt from THE GOOD GIRL.

Add this book to your Goodreads list.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

read more

What We’re Into — December Edition

Today’s post by yours truly and Marybeth Whalen | @ArielLawhon and MarybethWhalen

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Since founding She Reads five years ago we have made every effort to wrap things up early in December. Part of this is our gift to you–who needs one more blog post to read during the busiest month of the year? But part of it is a gift to ourselves–a way to lay down our work so that we can turn heart and mind toward our families during Advent. And yet doing so feels very bittersweet. We spend eleven months of every year with you, our lovely readers and it’s hard to step away from this conversation about Story.

So this year we decided to something a bit different. We’re going to sign out for the year with the monthly post that we not only have the most fun writing, but the one that seems to be most popular with you: What We’re Into.

On the reading front I’ve been somewhat obsessed with two different series over the last few weeks. The first is Janet Evanovich’s series about hapless bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Here’s the truth: I’m really, Really, REALLY late to this series. I don’t even know when she published the first one. And I had no interest in reading the books until suddenly…I did. But it makes me laugh. And right now, while I’m knee deep in a deadline for my next book, you can’t put a price on laughter and joy and the simple fun of reading. Especially since I find it very difficult to read fiction while I’m writing it. But I tend to be okay if I read things that are very different from what I write. I can read one or two of these a week, at night, after we’ve put the kids to bed. This month they’ve helped me make the transition between “work mode” and “rest mode” much easier. And did I mention they make me laugh? Oh my gosh, I laugh so hard. And don’t be alarmed by the image block below. I’m only up to number eight.

Stephanie Plum Image Block

Confession: I grew up reading primarily Science Fiction and Fantasy thanks to parents who adored those genres. I’ve read everything ever written by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, and Lloyd Alexander. To this day high fantasy is like comfort food to me. I gobble it up when I’m tired or spent or otherwise needing a creative distraction. And while I have a rather strong fixation on Game of Thrones (though it’s taking me ages to read through them) I have a soft spot for YA fantasy. (Again, something I would never nor could ever write–my mind simply doesn’t work that way) So this last Saturday when I worked a shift at Parnassus Books here in Nashville for Indies First, and heard rave reviews about Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, I couldn’t help but grab a copy and dive in. I flew through book one, SHADOW AND BONE, in just a couple days and will start book two, SIEGE AND STORM, as soon as I hit publish on this post.


Reading is my first true love. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s cold outside. And my house is drafty. And I’m suffering from early onset middle age. So you know what I love most right now? Fleece lined leggings.

And last but not least, I am very much into Advent. It’s so hard to stay grounded in the holiness of this season when everything else is spinning so fast. But Advent matters. Christmas matters. And it matters tremendously that my husband and I teach these things to our boys. So we are trying to slow down. To breathe. We’re reading through an Advent book every evening (so we miss a night occasionally, we’re human and evenings are rough around here, and that’s okay). We are trying to make memories and give meaning to a month that has been co-opted by a vapid commercialism. Here are the Advent candles that my sister made last year. I still think they’re some of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. Mason jars and twine. You can’t get simpler than that.

Advent Candles

 Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I’ve got a few links to share with you that I’ve been into this month:

At She Reads we already know that reading improves your life. Here’s scientific proof.

This post inspired me to start thinking about improving my writing life by setting goals and even making a visual representation of those goals. Even if you’re not a writer, there’s some good inspiration here.

I sent this post to all my children. It’s one that we should all read– how much are we really accomplishing with all the distractions around us?

I wrote a far more personal “What I’m Into” post over at my blog. If you’d like to check out what was going on in my life at my house this month, I invite you to stop by.

We have long said that story is the shortest distance to the human heart. This ten minute Ted Talk goes into more detail into why that is actually true. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes and watch. You won’t regret it.

And so my friends, we’ve come to the end of our regularly scheduled programming for 2014. This year flew by. We’re looking forward to a few weeks of silence but we will be back on Monday, January 5th to announce our Books of Winter. We’ve found four novels that we think you will absolutely love. 2015 is going to be an amazing year!

Until then, what are YOU into?


read more

Eight Christmas Novels To Lift Your Spirits

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

Christmas makes us think about shopping and planning and parties and busyness. But it also makes us think about the downtime in between all the shopping and busyness and parties– those quiet moments by the fire, sipping something warm and, hopefully, reading a great book. Before we go on our Christmas break here at She Reads, we thought that we’d share some new Christmas stories you might like to have in your hand when those downtime moments come along.

Hello From The GillespiesHello From The Gillespies by Monica McInerny

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

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

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

Where Treetops GlistenWhere Treetops Glisten by Cara Putman, Trisha Goyer and Sarah Sundin

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.

In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.

Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?

In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?

Winter StreetWinter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Kelley Quinn is the owner of Nantucket’s Winter Street Inn and the proud father of four, all of them grown and living in varying states of disarray. Patrick, the eldest, is a hedge fund manager with a guilty conscience. Kevin, a bartender, is secretly sleeping with a French housekeeper named Isabelle. Ava, a school teacher, is finally dating the perfect guy but can’t get him to commit. And Bart, the youngest and only child of Kelley’s second marriage to Mitzi, has recently shocked everyone by joining the Marines.

As Christmas approaches, Kelley is looking forward to getting the family together for some quality time at the inn. But when he walks in on Mitzi kissing Santa Claus (or the guy who’s playing Santa at the inn’s annual party), utter chaos descends. With the three older children each reeling in their own dramas and Bart unreachable in Afghanistan, it might be up to Kelley’s ex-wife, nightly news anchor Margaret Quinn, to save Christmas at the Winter Street Inn.

Before the mulled cider is gone, the delightfully dysfunctional Quinn family will survive a love triangle, an unplanned pregnancy, a federal crime, a small house fire, many shots of whiskey, and endless rounds of Christmas caroling, in this heart-warming novel about coming home for the holidays.

An Island ChristmasAn Island Christmas by Nancy Thayer

In this enchanting holiday novel from New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer, family and friends gather on Nantucket for a gorgeous winter wedding with plenty of merry surprises in store.

As Christmas draws near, Felicia returns to her family’s home on the island to marry her adventurous, rugged boyfriend, Archie. Every detail is picture-perfect for a dream wedding: the snow-dusted streets, twinkling lights in the windows, a gorgeous red and white satin dress. Except a lavish ceremony is not Felicia’s dream at all; it’s what her mother, Jilly, wants. Jilly’s also worried that her daughter’s life with daredevil Archie will be all hiking and skydiving. Wondering if their handsome neighbor Steven Hardy might be a more suitable son-in-law, Jilly embarks on a secret matchmaking campaign for Felicia and the dashing stockbroker.

As the big day approaches and Jilly’s older daughter, Lauren, appears with rambunctious kids in tow, tensions in the household are high. With the family careening toward a Yuletide wedding disaster, an unexpected twist in Nancy Thayer’s heartwarming tale reminds everyone about the true meaning of the season.

How To BakeHow to Bake The Perfect Pecan Pie (Home for the Holidays Book One) by Gina Henning

Lauren Hauser is home for the holidays, and she’s been given a challenge: preparing her grandmother’s pecan pie. The problem? Lauren’s not famed for her baking skills. In fact, while her sister would win Star Baker every week, and her mom at least knows a sieve from a spatula, Lauren’s bakes have always been more dangerous than delicious!

Still, no Thanksgiving would be complete without dessert…which is why Lauren finds herself searching for pecans on Thanksgiving Eve. Stumbling into a gorgeous stranger laden down with bags of pecans seems like a holiday miracle…but despite Jack’s kissable lips he’s frostier than a snow cone…and out of sight before she can say ‘Macy’s Parade’!

As the clock counts down to Thanksgiving dinner, Lauren is running out of time. And without her grandmother’s perfect pecan pie it won’t be a very Happy Thanksgiving! What Lauren needs is a knight in shining armour. And it might just be that the magic of Thanksgiving will find her one after all…

And don’t miss book two in the series, How To Bake The Perfect Christmas Cake!

 And finally, here are some not-so-new but definitely worth the read if you’ve never had the pleasure:

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

The story of a woman, told through the Christmas letters she pens each year.

Say When by Elizabeth Berg

Though this is not a distinctly Christmas book, the main character does take up playing Santa Clause.

Merry Ex-Mas by Sheila Roberts

This one is just fun. And clever.

read more

Book Club Recipe: The House We Grew Up In

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



I don’t actually own a clay tagine to braise my tagines in, but I find that a covered roasting pan placed in the oven does a pretty good job of cooking versions of the northern African stew. This lamb tagine recipe, an adaptation of the root vegetable tagine recipe I often make, was inspired by the final Easter dinner character Lorelei Bird of Lisa Jewell’s novel The House We Grew Up In shares with her soul mate. In the book, the elaborate dish is not the usual lamb with mint, too many carrots and not enough potatoes that Lorelei normally serves her family after foil-wrapped egg hunting each Easter Sunday, but she enjoys the cherished time with them and does her best to have an open mind about the non-traditional lamb dish. The chunky, flavorful tagine can be served on a bed of couscous, as Vicky and her daughters in the book chose to do. This one contains far more potatoes and parsnips than carrots, I should add, which would have made Lorelei’s children very happy.


Lamb Tagine with Lemon, Mint, & Rosemary


4 T extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 c. onions, large dice

1 1/2 lamb cut from the bone and cubed. Leg, shank, whatever you like.

2 1/2 c. potatoes, peeled, large dice

2 c. parsnips, peeled, large dice

1 1/2 c. baby carrots

28 oz. tomato puree

The zest of one lemon

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 small bay leaves

2 small, fresh rosemary sprigs

2 T mint chiffonade

1/2 c. raisins (optional)


Heat the oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Saute the garlic in the oil until translucent.


Add the onions to sweat.


Toss in the lamb cubes to brown them.


When the lamb is browned, add the potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and lemon zest.



Stir in all of the remaining ingredients but the raisins.


Place in a 350 degree F oven for 2 hours.


Stir in the raisins.



Serve with couscous.


Yield: 6 servings.

Note: Using a slow cooker beef stew method might give Crock Pot fans a sporting chance with this recipe, though I imagine mushy vegetables and pulverized potatoes would result.

read more

In Defense of Christmas Letters

Today’s post by Monica McInerney | @MonicaMcInerney

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

And how come my family was the complete opposite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Possibly not,’ Mum said cryptically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

New from the author of The House of Memories

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

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

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

read more

November Young Adult Book Review

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

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

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

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

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

read more

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

Today’s post by Lisa Van Allen |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

read more

Fictionalizing Historical Figures

Today’s post by Renee Rosen | @ReneeRosen1

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

read more

November Young Adult Book Reviews

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

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

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


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

read more

The Truth About Grief And Writing

Today’s post by Susan Strecker | @SusanStrecker

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

read more