When the Truth is Stranger, Better, and More Intriguing Than Fiction

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

One of the best things about being a writer is the chance to travel and meet other writers. To swap stories. To hear about their books and their obsessions and the things that drive them out of bed in the middle of the night to scratch ideas on bits of paper. We recently met two authors that we think you will love as much as we do. The remarkable thing about these women is that they do not write fiction. Marybeth and I find this bizarre and fascinating and unfathomable because we tend to think that EVERYONE writes fiction. But they do something better: they mine the dark corners of history to unearth those little, forgotten gems. They are journalists. Biographers. Historians. They are brilliant. And so Denise Kiernan and Karen Abbott show us that the truth is stranger than fiction.

Here they are, in their own words, to talk about their latest books.

*email readers can click here to watch the videos

The Girls of Atomic CityThe Girls of Atomic City: the untold story of the women who helped win WWII by Denise Kiernan

AT THE HEIGHT OF WORLD WAR II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians–many of them young women from small towns across the South–were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war–when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.

Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it–women who are now in their eighties and nineties– The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.



Liar Temptress Soldier SpyLiar Temptress Soldier Spy: four women undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history”(USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.


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First Paragraph Preview: The Books of Fall

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

There’s something about the first lines of a novel. They tell you everything you need to know. So much of the tone, the mystery, the heart of a novel is captured in its opening. I’m a sucker for a great first line. But a good paragraph? A good page? Well, when an author delivers those things I’m sold.

So we thought it would be fun to give you a first paragraph preview of our newly announced book club selections for Fall. If you missed the announcement you can read about it here and enter to win all four of these wonderful novels. I think, once you’ve read these first paragraphs, you’ll see why we chose them as our Books of Fall.

The House We Grew Up InThe House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Tuesday, 2nd November 2010

Hi, Jim!

Well, I must say, I didn’t think for a minute you’d be called something earthy like Jim! The Barbour and natty waistcoat in your profile photo make you look more like a Rupert or a Henry, something serious with two syllables, you know! And talking of syllables, and since you asked, no, I’m not really called Rainbowbelle. OF COURSE NOT! I’m called Lorelei and my name has three or four syllables, depending on how you say it. (My parents named us after mythical maidens. My sister is called Pandora. There was an Athena, but she was stillborn, so you know.) Anyway, Lor-a-lay-ee. Or Lor-a-lay. I’m not fussy really.

I’m sixty-five years old and I live in one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds in a big, crazy, old house full of what I call TREASURES and what my children call CRAP. We are probably ALL right. :-)

Read an excerpt of THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

The Distance

The Distance by Helen Giltrow

There’s blood in my hair. Twelve hours later and I’ve still got blood in my hair.

“Are you alright?”

The uniformed officer standing guard by the door is staring at my face in the washroom mirror. Breaking rules: she’s been ordered not to talk to me. Maybe she thinks I’ll faint.

They took my coat away from me last night, at the scene; the blood had soaked through to the lining. There was blood on my face, too, and blood on my hands, working its way into the cracks around my nails–the doctor who examined me cleaned most of it off before declaring me fit to be interviewed. I dealt with the rest as soon as I could, ignoring the pain, scrubbing my skin red-raw to get it out.

Nobody told me about my hair.

Read an excerpt of THE DISTANCE here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

All day long, people stopped along the path that ran through the woods by the Potomac River. Bundled in their parkas and wool scarves, they stood close to one another for warmth and clutched the mittened hands of their children or the leashes of the dogs as they stared at the one splash of color in the winter-gray landscape. The yellow kayak sat in the middle of the river, surrounded by ice. The water had been rough the night before, buffeted by snowy winds, rising into swirling whitecaps as the temperature plummeted and the waves froze in jagged crests, trapping the kayak many yards from shore.

The walkers had seen the kayak on the morning news, but they still needed to see it in person. It marked the end of a saga that had gripped them for months. They’d looked forward to the trial that would never happen now, because the seventeen-year-old girl–the seventeen-year-old-murderer, most were sure–now rested somewhere beneath that rocky expanse of ice.

Read an excerpt of THE SILENT SISTER here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

WMM Paperback2

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

We begin in a bar. We will end here as well, but that is more than you need to know at the moment. For now, a woman sits in a corner booth waiting to give her confession. But her party is late, and without an audience, she looks small and alone, like an invalid in an oversize church pew. It’s not so easy for her, this truth telling, and she strains against it. A single strand of pearls, brittle and yellowed with age, rests against the flat plane of her chest. She rolls them between her fingers as though counting the beads on a rosary. Stella Crater has avoided this confession for thirty-nine years. The same number of years she has been coming to this bar.

At one time, this meeting would have been a spectacle, splashed across the headlines of every paper in New York: WIFE OF MISSING JUDGE MEETS WITH LEAD INVESTIGATOR, TELLS ALL! But the days of front-page articles, interviews, and accusations are over, filed away in some distant archives. Tonight her stage is empty.

Read an excerpt of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

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Picture This: the image that inspired THE LIGHTKEEPER’S WIFE

Today’s post by Sarah Ann Johnson

Grace DarlingThe idea for THE LIGHTKEEPER’S WIFE was born at the Highland House Museum in Truro, MA. It was there that I first saw a print of Grace Darling, a lightkeeper’s daughter who rowed into the waves to save a shipwrecked sailor. At the museum, I learned of other women who carried out similar feats of daring, and I longed to learn more about them.

As a young girl growing up on Cape Cod, I spent a lot of time sailing primarily with boys. I wanted only to be one of them. When I was seven years old, I was invited to the birthday of my friend Burt. When the party favors were handed out, the girls got a pink hand mirror and the boys got plastic sailboats. I was furious and hurt that I didn’t receive a sailboat. My identity was crushed. I was a sailor, not a girl who looked in the mirror and primped her hair. Couldn’t anyone see that? I had no women heroes to turn to.  Where had Grace and her compatriots been all my life?

Even then, I was aware of the stereotypes, and they hurt my developing sense of who I was.

* * *

My life at home was immersed in maritime culture. In one of my father’s books, I saw a picture of a Winslow Homer painting that captivated me. It was of a man rescuing a girl using a breeches buoy.  I wanted to be the one rescuing the girl.

THE LIGHTKEEPER’S WIFE offered me that opportunity. I entered the life of a woman who carried out daring rescues at sea, and thereby created a hero of my own, a woman that other women and girls can relate to.

While researching maritime history that included women at sea, I also discovered the lives of women pirates, and that’s when the character Blue was born. Women pirates carried knives and guns and fought merciless battles alongside the men. What could inspire such violence in a woman? I wondered. I was fascinated and using my own rage as a compass, I dove into Blue’s life aboard the Alice K with a deep curiosity.

The women in THE LIGHTKEEPER’S WIFE came to life out of my deep desire for heroes of my own, and my own desire to play at being a hero. Even if it was too late to play kids’ games where I was the pirate queen, I got to live vicariously through the lives of my characters, daring women who reflect my own long-time wish for adventure.

* * *

The Lightkeeper's WifeThe Lightkeeper’s Wife is a beautiful, stirring novel full of captivating mystery and clear-eyed emotion. The luminous characters are beacons that guide the reader through a narrative as thrilling, expansive, and dangerous as the sea at night.”—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This and Corpus Christi

When Hannah Rescues Billy From a Shipwreck, She Will Change Both Their Lives Forever.

Hannah Snow shouldn’t be in the water, saving shipwrecked sailors. Her husband would be furious—it’s his job to tend to the lighthouse at Dangerfield, to warn the ships off the rocks. Sailors know that the Dangerfield coastline is treacherous, but the waves constantly pull them down into the deep anyway.

But when the ship Cynthia Rose runs aground, John is away buying supplies, and Hannah rushes out into the storm. She can only fish one sailor out of the icy water—weatherworn, half-drunk Billy.

When Hannah gets word that John will not return home to her, she sinks into grief so deep that she feels she may never surface again. With Billy’s help, she continues to man the lighthouse, keeping the lamps blazing even during her darkest hours. But Billy is not all that he seems. And Hannah starts to doubt whether anything she knew about this strange man—or herself—is true.

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The Books Of Fall

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

The Books of Fall

Three months ago we decided to make a major change in the way we announce our book club selections. For five years we’ve been picking one book per month. And that format worked really well. But our goal has always been to focus on conversation, community, and connection. This is a safe place for book lovers to gather. You may have noticed over the years that we don’t post negative reviews. We don’t trash talk authors or novels. Our goal is something else entirely: to support the things we love. And since She Reads is five years old this month we decided that this was the perfect time to pursue that goal in earnest. So instead of announcing our book club picks month by month we’ve decided to announce them seasonally, beginning today.

“The Books of Fall” are THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell, THE DISTANCE by Helen Giltrow, THE SILENT SISTER by Diane Chamberlain, and THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS by Ariel Lawhon. (And yes, for those who remember, we did feature this book in February, but we’ve decided to add it as the bonus paperback this time around as well)

Why the change? We found ourselves running a bit frantic each month picking the books and getting the details in order. Doing it this way allows us to slow down. To focus. To really have a conversation about each novel. It allows room to build relationships between authors and readers. And that, my friends, is valuable. Because we’re all in this together.

This format also allows us to provide a little something for everyone. This time around we have women’s fiction (THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN), we have a thriller (THE DISTANCE), we have a contemporary suspense (THE SILENT SISTER), and we have historical (THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS). So there’s no reason for anyone to sit out in case our selected book isn’t quite their up of tea. However, if you’re anything like us, you may just love each and every one of them. We certainly hope you do.We chose these novels carefully and couldn’t put them down as we read. And we are excited about spending the next three months discussing these books and getting to know the authors. We truly hope you’ll join us.

To celebrate this new way of doing things, we’ll be giving away five complete sets of our “Books of Fall,” starting with one today. (See entry below for details)

And now, for the fun part, a bit about each of the novels we’ve selected as our featured book club selections this fall:

The House We Grew Up InTHE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell

“Clever, intelligent…wonderful” — Jojo Moyes, New York Times bestselling author of ME BEFORE YOU.

Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.

Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg’s case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

Read an excerpt of THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

The DistanceTHE DISTANCE BY Helen Giltrow

“Fast, hard, and very, very good.” – Lee Child, internationally bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers

A dark, ultra-contemporary, and relentlessly paced debut thriller about a London society woman trying to put her secret criminal past behind her, and the hit man who comes to her with an impossible job she can’t refuse.

Charlotte Alton is an elegant socialite. But behind the locked doors of her sleek, high-security apartment in London’s Docklands, she becomes Karla. Karla’s business is information. Specifically, making it disappear. She’s the unseen figure who, for a commanding price, will cover a criminal’s tracks. A perfectionist, she’s only made one slip in her career—several years ago she revealed her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. After a mob hit went horrifically wrong, Johanssen needed to disappear, and Karla helped him. He became a regular client, and then, one day, she stepped out of the shadows for reasons unclear to even herself. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla’s help again. The job is to take out an inmate—a woman—inside an experimental prison colony. But there’s no record the target ever existed. That’s not the only problem: the criminal boss from whom Johanssen has been hiding is incarcerated there. That doesn’t stop him. It’s Karla’s job to get him out alive, and to do that she must uncover the truth. Who is this woman? Who wants her dead? Is the job a trap for Johanssen or for her? But every door she opens is a false one, and she’s getting desperate to protect a man—a killer—to whom she’s inexplicably drawn. Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game.

Read an excerpt of THE DISTANCE here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

The Silent SisterTHE SILENT SISTER by Diane Chamberlain

“Chamberlain’s powerful story is a page-turner to the very end. A must for all mystery lovers and those who like reading about family struggles”. — Library Journal

In The Silent Sister, Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager.  Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary.  Lisa is alive.  Alive and living under a new identity.  But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now?  As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family.  Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.

Read an excerpt of THE SILENT SISTER here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.


“Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.”–People Magazine

“More meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”– The New York Times Book Review

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three.
 Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

Read an excerpt of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS here.

Add this book to your Goodreads to-read list.

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Southern Stories: A Roundup

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

It’s no secret that we love all things southern at She Reads. Hailing from NC and TN we are partial to sweet tea, southern drawls, and even the sticky heat. Ok, maybe not the sticky heat. But we do love a good southern story. Today’s roundup features not-to-be-missed novels that take place in the south and include the things about this part of the US that makes it quirky, mysterious, and oh so charming.

DollbabyDollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The HelpDollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

The Right ThingThe Right Thing by Amy Conner

On a scorching August day in 1963, seven-year-old Annie Banks meets the girl who will become her best friend. Skinny, outspoken Starr Dukes and her wandering preacher father may not be accepted by polite society in Jackson, Mississippi, but Annie and Starr are too busy sharing secrets and playing elaborate games of Queen for a Day to care. Then, as suddenly as she appeared in Annie’s life, Starr disappears. Annie grows up to follow the path ordained for pretty, well-to-do Jackson women–marrying an ambitious lawyer, filling her days with shopping and charity work. She barely recognizes Starr when they meet twenty-seven years after that first fateful summer, but the bond formed so long ago quickly reemerges. Starr, pregnant by a powerful married man who wants her to get out of town, has nowhere to turn. And Annie, determined not to fail her friend this time, agrees to drive Starr to New Orleans to get money she’s owed.

During the eventful road trip that follows, Annie will confront the gap between friendship and responsibility; between her safe, ordered existence and the dreams she’s grown accustomed to denying.

Moving, witty, and beautifully told, The Right Thing is a story of love and courage, the powerful impact of friendship, and the small acts that can anchor a life–or, with a little luck, steer it in the right direction at last.

The Oleander SistersThe Oleander Sisters by Elaine Hussey

An emotionally riveting tale of the bonds of family and the power of hope in the sultry Deep South

In 1969, the first footsteps on the moon brighten America with possibilities. But along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a category five storm is brewing, and the Blake sisters of Biloxi are restless for change. Beth “Sis” Blake has always been the caretaker, the dutiful one, with the weight of her family’s happiness—and their secrets—on her shoulders. She dreams of taking off to pursue her own destiny, but not before doing whatever it takes to rescue her sister.

Emily Blake, an unwed mother trying to live down her past, wants the security of marriage for the sake of her five-year-old son, Andy. But secure is the last thing she feels with her new husband. Now she must put aside pride, and trust family to help her find the courage to escape.

With Hurricane Camille stirring up havoc, two sisters—each desperate to break free—begin a remarkable journey where they’ll discover that in the wake of destruction lies new life, unshakable strength and the chance to begin again. Dreams are reborn and the unforgettable force of friendship is revealed in The Oleander Sisters, an extraordinary story of courage, love and sacrifice.

Season of the DragonfliesSeason of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech

As beguiling as the novels of Alice Hoffman, Adriana Trigiani, Aimee Bender, and Sarah Addison Allen,Season of the Dragonflies is a story of flowers, sisters, practical magic, old secrets, and new love, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

For generations, the Lenore women have manufactured a perfume unlike any other, and guarded the unique and mysterious ingredients. Their perfumery, hidden in the quiet rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, creates one special elixir that secretly sells for millions of dollars to the world’s most powerful—movie stars, politicians, artists, and CEOs. The Lenore’s signature perfume is actually the key to their success.

Willow, the coolly elegant Lenore family matriarch, is the brains behind the company. Her gorgeous, golden-haired daughter Mya is its heart. Like her foremothers, she can “read” scents and envision their power. Willow’s younger daughter, dark-haired, soulful Lucia, claims no magical touch, nor does she want any part of the family business. She left the mountains years ago to make her own way. But trouble is brewing. Willow is experiencing strange spells of forgetfulness. Mya is plotting a coup. A client is threatening blackmail. And most ominously, the unique flowers used in their perfume are dying.

Whoever can save the company will inherit it. Though Mya is the obvious choice, Lucia has begun showing signs of her own special abilities. And her return to the mountains—heralded by a swarm of blue dragonflies—may be the answer they all need.

Palmetto MoonPalmetto Moon by Kim Boykin

June, 1947. Charleston is poised to celebrate the biggest wedding in high-society history, the joining of two of the oldest families in the city. Except the bride is nowhere to be found…

Unlike the rest of the debs she grew up with, Vada Hadley doesn’t see marrying Justin McLeod as a blessing—she sees it as a life sentence. So when she finds herself one day away from a wedding she doesn’t want, she’s left with no choice but to run away from the future her parents have so carefully planned for her.

In Round O, South Carolina, Vada finds independence in the unexpected friendships she forms at the boarding house where she stays, and a quiet yet fulfilling courtship with the local diner owner, Frank Darling. For the first time in her life, she finally feels like she’s where she’s meant to be. But when her dear friend Darby hunts her down, needing help, Vada will have to confront the life she gave up—and decide where her heart truly belongs.

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Book Trailer of the Day: A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Charles Martin has long been one of our favorite writers and we’ve got a copy of his new novel, A LIFE INTERCEPTED, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

**Email readers can view the video by clicking here.

A Life InterceptedTwelve years ago Matthew “the Rocket” Rising had it all. Married to his high school sweetheart and one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of college football, he was the number one NFL draft pick. But on the night of the draft, he plummeted from the pinnacle of esteem. Falsely accused of a heinous crime with irrefutable evidence, it seemed in an instant all was lost–his reputation, his career, his freedom, and most devastatingly, the love of his life.

Having served his sentence and never played a down of professional football, Matthew leaves prison with one goal–to find his wife, Audrey, whom no one has seen since the trial. He returns to an unwelcoming reception from his Gardi, Georgia, hometown to learn that Audrey has taken shelter from the media with the nuns at a Catholic school. There she has discovered a young man with the talent to achieve the football career Matthew should have had. All he needs is the right coach. Although helping the boy means Matthew violates the conditions of his release and–if discovered–reincarceration for life, he’ll take the chance with hope of winning back Audrey’s love.

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What We’re Into: August Edition

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

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen


For us August has meant equal parts grasping at the last bits of summer and preparing for the new school year. We’ve found ourselves in far too many stores buying far too many items from far too long lists. But we’ve also paused for one last trip to the pool, one more hamburger from the grill, one more drippy popsicle as the lightning bugs flicker on the lawn. Saying goodbye to summer is always hard, but even we recognize that getting back into a routine can be a good thing.

Of course August has also meant squeezing in all the books we can as we’ve sat by the pool or in the hammock. This month I (Marybeth) fell in love with THE ROSIE PROJECT and have decided, for the record, that Jude Law must play Don Tillman in the movie. It’s possible I may have tweeted that suggestion to the author and included @SonyPictures (who has the option on the movie) in the tweet. I thought they needed to know. I’m sure they were thankful.

I also read the new book SPEAK by Nish Weiseth, owner of the site A Deeper Story. In this book Nish advocates that we all speak up and share our story– that this world will be, and is being, changed by people who are brave enough to tell the truth about who they are and what they’ve faced. Considering the way we feel about the power of story at She Reads, I have to agree.

Claire Cook’s NEVER TOO LATE is a good one for any woman going through a time of reinvention, especially a woman who is or would like to be a writer. I got an idea from reading the book that I put into action right away and got such a positive response from it. I think I owe Claire a thank you note.

Marybeth Collage

THIS IS THE WATER had me riveted from beginning to end. Maybe it’s because I have children who swim on a year-round swim team similar to the one at the center of the story, but the observations on modern motherhood paired with the whodunit aspect made me tear through this one. I love stories that successfully do this.

And I will add one movie: When The Game Stands Tall. This movie moved and inspired my entire family, ranging in age from adult to teen to elementary school. My kids even went back and saw it again the next week. The message of this movie is one that will make you think and reflect long after you leave the theater. If you’re looking for some uplifting entertainment, I can’t say enough good about it. And that, in my opinion, is so rare to be able to say about movies these days.

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon


Y’all. August was (is?? I guess there’s a few days left) rough. Not in a bad way. But rather in an I-didn’t-stop-moving-or-thinking-or-doing-or-going-or-traveling kind of way. Pick a verb, I did it in August. Or at least it feels that way. For me, this month can be summed up in three words: School. Booktopia. Hindenburg.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (Bonus points if you can name that movie!)

School: for the first time since 2003, I find myself in a quiet house during the day. Don’t get me wrong, this is wonderful. And there is a part of me that truly loves it. But I miss my kids. I miss the chaos and the questions and all the life that happens within these walls. Our youngest son started Kindergarten a few weeks ago. And like many kids, I expected him to wake up one day and resist. It’s common for little ones to think that Kindergarten is a one time event and feel very put out when they realize they have to keep going. Not my kid. He wakes up every day and asks, “Can I go back today?” And when I tell him yes he leaps around the living room like Skippyjon Jones. This breaks my heart a little bit. He’s my baby. He’s supposed to want to stay home with me.

Booktopia: all I can about this event is GO! Organized by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of the Books on the Nightstand podcast, this is an event held three times a year in different cities. I was one of seven authors invited this year and truly it is the best event I’ve ever attended. Not only did I get to discuss THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS with some of the most warm, erudite readers I’ve ever met, but I was in some awe-inspiring company as well. My fellow authors were Denise Kiernan, author of THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY, Wiley Cash, author of A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME and THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY, Krista Bremer, author of MY ACCIDENTAL JIHAD, Kim Church, author of BYRD, E. Lockhart, author of WE WERE LIARS, and Anthony Marra, author of A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. As a complete and total bonus, I was able to talk Marybeth into driving the two hours from Charlotte to join me for the weekend. I almost feel guilty for all the fun we had. Almost.

Booktopia Collage

The main event this last Saturday night at Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville, NC. Lovely authors. Amazing crowd. Truly fantastic night. Ignore my goofy expression. (bottom left)

Book Haul

Booktopia book haul, plus two additional titles that I’ve been itching to read: STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (a gift from my publisher) and THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen.

Hindenburg: Well, to be precise, I’ve been really, REALLY into the Hindenburg this month. You know the one. It blew up over Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6th, 1937. The event was mind-boggling and iconic and destructive. It also happens to be the subject of my next novel, due out some time in 2016. The logistics of writing a novel like this are enough to melt my brain. But I love a challenge and I love history so it’s a perfect fit. For those who missed it, here is the announcement from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, Ariel Lawhon’s HINDENBURG, a reimagining of the three-day transatlantic flight of the Hindenburg, which gives a plausible, heart wrenching explanation for one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, to Melissa Danaczko at Doubleday, by Elisabeth Weed at Weed Literary (NA).

And here is what I can tell you about the book: it is told over three days, from four different points of view, with much nefarious activity. And of course this happens:

Hindenburg PhotoHindenburg Photo 2

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Love. Story. (A Contribution)

Today’s post by one of our lovely readers, Tori Whitaker | @ToriLWhitaker

Love. Story

We’re thrilled to hand this space over to Tori Whitaker today in the first of our “Love. Story.” series. We first met Tori last August at a writer’s workshop at the Decatur Book Festival. She is bright, well read, thoughtful, and a true lover of story. In the last year she has become not just a member of this community but a friend as well. Please welcome her today. And if you would like contribute to our series, read this post and contact us here.

Tori Whitaker

Tori Whitaker

How Back Bay by William Martin Changed My Life

My daddy asked me when I was nine where we should go on family vacation.  I said what every small town Indiana girl would say.  Disneyland? Nope.  Camping?  No way.  The beach?  Nah-uh.  I picked the 1607 settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.

Okay, so my dream destination was a tad unusual for my age.  Maybe it was spurred by Mrs. Stevens who taught American history that year. Or, maybe it came because I was born to a family of five living generations—in a way, I grew up with people from history eating around the breakfast table.  Perhaps, it was nostalgia in recalling my first museum visit; when I was four, I’d stood with Poppy and Memaw before a Model T, a real car from the “olden days.”  Regardless, I craved history the way athletes love sports.

This love prompted me years later to pick up William Martin’s 1979 debut novel, Back Bay.  Oh, I’d read plenty of historical fiction.  I’d gone through a historical romance phase before that.  This was different.

The chapters of Martin’s family saga alternated between the days of Paul Revere and Boston’s era of corporate greed and corruption.  A buried silver tea service connected the two periods.  By the time I discovered Martin, he had published a slew of past-and-present novels, but in Back Bay, I’d found my literary passion:  books with contemporary storylines juxtaposed against tales of ages past…books offering a glance-across-the-shoulder perspective.

Had I not read Martin’s book, I might not have sought out newer novels that spanned time periods.  Works like those by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Sarah Jio, and Sarah McCoy.  I might not have lost myself in Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, nor puzzled over Anne Fortier’s mystery set centuries apart in Italy.  I might never have bitten my nails over the fate of a painting looted by Nazis—thanks to best-selling author, Jojo Moyes—nor soaked up tales of Salem witches by Katherine Howe.  I might have missed pondering the horrors of slavery through Tara Conklin’s eyes, or of 1930s discrimination via Julie Kibler’s voice.  And I might have skipped crying over scenes crafted by Jenna Blum and Tatiana De Rosnay.

Without reading Back Bay, I might never have realized that here was the kind of fiction I yearned to write.

How fortuitous of me to show up early for a book fest awhile back.  The session preceding William Martin’s was crammed full, forcing me to wait in the lobby (and to greet the master of dual narrative novels, alone, upon his arrival).  He shared wisdom as I scrawled notes in my pocket-sized spiral pad with jittery fingers.

“Is it hard for you,” I asked, newbie that I was, “to align the stories of characters in two time periods so seamlessly?”

“It makes me pull out my hair,” he said with a laugh.  Thinking of my own book in progress, I warmed in knowing I was on the right track.

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Life Is Still Sweet: A Roundup

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

Between the untimely death of a beloved actor, the atrocities and unrest in the middle east, the weird weather patterns, and other freaky things that show up in our news feeds and social media, it’s easy to start thinking the sky really is falling. It’s hard not to let it get us down. Especially if this worldwide unrest is amplified by hard times on the home front– job loss, illness, family strife, financial woes, and marital disharmony come to mind… just to name a few.

When life begins to weigh on us, it’s tempting to hide under the covers in a fetal position sucking our thumb. But today at She Reads we’d like to offer another solution. Silly as it may sound, maybe diving into a sweet story is just what the doctor ordered. So today, because we believe in hope, and goodness, and joy (and cake, and flowers, and love), we share these books with you– if for nothing else than to remind us all that life is still sweet. Hard as it can be to find simple joy– it is, always, there.

*Note: Some of these books are available now, some are coming out in a few weeks. Put them on your radar or better yet, on your nightstand!

Since You've Been GoneSINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE by Anouska Knight

How do you learn to love again?

In one tragic moment, Holly Jefferson’s life as she knew it changed forever. Now—to the external world, at least—she’s finally getting back on her feet, running her bakery, Cake. But inside, she’s still going through the motions befitting a twenty-seven-year-old widow.

Then she meets Ciaran Argyll. His privileged and charmed life feels a million miles from her own. However, there’s more to Ciaran than the superficial world that surrounds him, and he, too, is wrestling with his own ghosts. Will Holly find the missing ingredient that allows her to live again—and embrace an unknown and unexpected tomorrow?

Life Is SweetLIFE IS SWEET by Elizabeth Bass

Three years ago, Becca Hudson threw a dart at a map, hit Leesburg, Virginia, and decided it was the perfect place to start over. Now she has her own bakery, The Strawberry Cake Shop, loyal customers, and close friends. She also has something that success as a Hollywood child star couldn’t give her: a mostly normal existence. Not that it’s without complications. One best friend, Pam, is in the wary early days of a new relationship;another is fighting to save her marriage in the midst of infidelity. And then there’s Becca’s growing attraction to Matthew, surrogate stepdad to Olivia, a smart, sensitive ten-year-old who’s become a fixture in the bakery and in Becca’s affections.

Still, Becca is content to live in the present and ignore the “Whatever happened to?” speculation and occasional curious fan–until her past barges in again. Amid revelations and unexpected dilemmas, Becca must confront the life she stepped away from and the love she struggles to accept. It’s the only way she’ll truly find what she needs: a recipe for living that’s honest, messy, sweet, and true.

In an eloquent novel as moving as it is funny, acclaimed author Elizabeth Bass tells a story of forgiveness, resilience–and the unexpected detours that shape every journey to happiness.

A Pinch Of Ooh La LaA PINCH OF OOH LA LA by Renee Swindle

To get to happily ever after, sometimes you need to start from scratch….

Abbey Ross, who runs her own bakery in Oakland, California, is known for her visually stunning wedding cakes. But lately, Abbey’s own love life has become stale. According to her best friend, Bendrix, Abbey’s not the spontaneous young woman she was when they were teenagers listening to the Cure and creating attention-grabbing graffiti. Of course, her failed relationship with a womanizing art forger might have something to do with that. Nevertheless, it’s time for Abbey to step out of the kitchen—and her comfort zone—and Bendrix has even handpicked a man for her to date.

Samuel Howard is everything Abbey’s dreamed of: handsome, successful, and looking to raise a family. But a creamy icing might be needed to hide a problem or two. When Samuel complains about disrespect for the institution of marriage, Abbey’s reminded of her nontraditional family, with thirteen children from various mothers. And when Samuel rails about kids having kids, Abbey thinks of her twenty-year-old sister who’s recently revealed her pregnancy.

Soon Abbey is facing one disaster after another and struggling to make sense of it all. Her search for love has led her down a bitter path, but with the help of her unique family and unwavering friends, she just might find the ooh la la that makes life sweet.

The Art Of Arranging FlowersTHE ART OF ARRANGING FLOWERS by Lynne Barnard

A moving and eloquent novel about love, grief, renewal—and the powerful language of flowers.

Ruby Jewell knows flowers. In her twenty years as a florist she has stood behind the counter at the Flower Shoppe with her faithful dog, Clementine, resting at her feet. A customer can walk in, and with just a glance or a few words, Ruby can throw together the perfect arrangement for any occasion.

Whether intended to rekindle a romance, mark a celebration, offer sympathy, or heal a broken heart, her expressive floral designs mark the moments and milestones in the lives of her neighbors. It’s as though she knows just what they want to say, just what they need.

Yet Ruby’s own heart’s desires have gone ignored since the death of her beloved sister. It will take an invitation from a man who’s flown to the moon, the arrival of a unique little boy, and concern from a charming veterinarian to reawaken her wounded spirit. Any life can be derailed, but the healing power of community can put it right again.


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Book Trailer of the Day

One of the reasons I love running She Reads with my best friend is because she sends me links to videos like this. And as the daughter of an artist, I love this so much. Marybeth and I knew this was a novel we should share with you, and really, once you watch it, you’ll see how this was the best possible format to do so. You can bet that I now have ALL WE HAD by Annie Weatherwax on my to-read list.

*email readers can click here to see the video

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