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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YA Review: Catch A Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

Today’s YA book review by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

Catch A Falling StarMy take:

Kim Culbertson’s Catch a Falling Star is one of the best contemporary YA romances I’ve read so far this year. It has everything I want to see: a strong, relatable, intelligent protagonist, a swoon-worthy boy, great supporting characters (including good parents – YAY!),  a setting I’d like to spend time in, and a cute, cleverly written plot sprinkled with some humor and sweetness.

What it’s about:

Carter Moon is happy with her life – she helps out in her parents’ deli, she’s about to graduate high school with some great friends, and she loves the small town of Little, CA. The problem? Well, there are a few. One, she’s so content with her current life that she hasn’t made any plans for beyond high school. Two, she takes on too much responsibility for her brother’s gambling addiction. And three, she’s completely unprepared for the impact the filming of a Hollywood movie in Little will have on her nice, quiet little life.

When Adam Jakes, current teen heartthrob and object of almost every teenage girl’s obsession, comes to Little for his next Hollywood movie, he’s in need of some positive PR. When Adam’s manager sees Carter and her small-town sweetness, he hires her to “date” Adam while he’s in town to build up his public image (Carter only agrees so she can use the money to help her brother).

Adam is not prepared for a girl who speaks her mind and seems immune to his celebrity status, and Carter is not prepared to actually find some depth and humanity behind Adam’s public persona. The result? A really, really cute story reminiscent of Jen E. Smith’s THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE. I devoured this in a day and instantly wanted more of Carter and Adam’s story. I’d love to see these characters reappear in future Culbertson titles.

Also, though these characters are upper high school age, I was really pleased to see that the book was totally clean and appropriate even for my middle schooler students to read. It was also pleasantly surprising to see that Carter’s parents are really good parents, models for the kinds of parents I wish we saw more in YA titles. Culbertson is a refreshing new voice in the YA world – I’d love to see this book on a bestseller list (and it would be perfect for a movie, too).

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It Comes In Waves: on motherhood, writing, and freedom.

Today’s post by author Erika Marks | @erikamarksauthr

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I set out to write IT COMES IN WAVES, I knew one of the novel’s pivotal relationships was going to be that of forty-two year-old, single mother Claire, and her teenage daughter, Lizzie, who is struggling to assert her independence.

Before I began the novel’s first draft, I worried I wouldn’t be able to relate to Claire’s challenges. Don’t get me wrong: I’m the mother of two daughters—but my daughters are young; young enough that they—and for this I thank my stars DAILY—still want me to, on occasion, hold their hands, sing them to sleep and maybe even, for a few precious minutes, be their whole world.

Now I know one day they will want their own space. There will be no hand-holding, no lullaby-singing, no tolerance of mom’s Mom-ness on any level—but that day is far, far away.

After all, I was a wildly independent kid who grew up to be a wildly independent adult. My leash was long—okay, in truth, there was no leash. There was no fence, no curfews, no limits. At seventeen, I backpacked through Greece and Italy with my best friend for six weeks. After college, I moved to LA, not knowing a soul, and asked a bus driver to drop me off in Venice Beach because I liked the way it felt. If my mother struggled to come to terms with my fierce independence, she cloaked it well. So how could I relate to a mother who saw the early sparks of independence in her daughter and felt such panic she could barely breathe—or let her daughter breathe, for that matter? Surely I couldn’t understand that mother?

Then I started writing Claire.

And suddenly, I could.

Because as mothers, no matter how we tell ourselves we will let go when we must, the instinct to hold on is strong—quite possibly even stronger than our childrens’ desire to pull free.

In my novel, Claire comes out on the other side, a better mother, a better person.

When the day comes for my daughters to show that same desire for personal freedom, that vital craving for independence, I can only hope I will have learned from Claire’s challenge—and emerge as well on the other side.


9780451418869_large_It_Comes_In_WavesFor competitive surfer Claire “Pepper” Patton, the waves of South Carolina’s Folly Beach once held the promise of a loving future and a bright career—until her fiance, Foster, broke the news that he and Claire’s best friend, Jill, were in love.

Eighteen years later, now forty-two and a single parent to a rebellious teenage daughter, Claire has put miles between that betrayal and that coast. But when ESPN invites her back to Folly Beach for a documentary on women in surfing, Claire decides it might be the chance she needs to regain control of her life and reacquaint herself with the unsinkable young woman she once was.

But not everything in Folly Beach is as Claire remembers it, most especially her ex-best friend, Jill, who is now widowed and raising her and Foster’s teenage son. An unexpected reunion with Claire will uncover a guilt that Jill has worked hard to bury—and bring to the surface years of unspoken blame.

When Claire crosses paths with a sexy pro-surfer who is as determined to get Claire back on a board as he is to get her in his bed, a chance for healing might not be far behind—or is it too late for two estranged friends to find forgiveness in the place that was once their coastal paradise, where life was spent barefoot and love was as dizzying as the perfect wave…


Erika Marks is a native New Englander who now lives and writes in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two little mermaids who will one day in the far, far future, forbid her from referring to them as such.

Question for you: what was your relationship with your mother like during your teen years? Good? Bad? Ugly? Or somewhere in between? 


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Book Review: The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

Today’s review by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

The Home PlaceWhat it’s about:

Carrie La Seur makes her remarkable debut with The Home Place, a mesmerizing, emotionally evocative, and atmospheric literary novel in the vein of The House Girl and A Land More Kind Than Home, in which a successful lawyer is pulled back into her troubled family’s life in rural Montana in the wake of her sister’s death.

The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.

The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.

The First Paragraphs:

“The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana, is personal and spiritual. It knows your weaknesses. It communicates with your fears. If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity. It gets you alone in a place where it can work at you. If you are white, especially from the old families, the cold speaks to you of being isolated and undefended on the infinite homestead plains. It sound like wolves and reverberates like drums in all the hollow places where you wonder who you are and what you would do in extremis. In this cold, you understand at last that you are not brave at all.

If you’re Indian–a Crow or Cheyenne off the res maybe, a Shoshone, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, one of the humbled peoples of an unforgiving land–the cold will sound different, but still, it knows your name. It has no mercy for you no matter how long and intimate its relationship with your mothers and fathers. You of all people ought to know that it is a killer. How many of your relatives has it taken? More than wars and car crashes? Do your fingers and toes tingle in the cold because of some childhood frostbite, before you learned to cover up, or when the power company turned off the juice and your little back got pushed up hard against the cold rock of winter?”

Why I loved it:

For me everything about this book came down to sisters. I have three of them, you see. And one of them could be the blueprint for Alma’s younger, troubled, tragic sister Vicky. It’s a wondrous and terrible thing to love someone you can’t control. Especially when that someone is determined to burn through life at their own pace and on their own terms. So reading this novel was visceral for me. I understood why Alma wanted to leave her old life behind (I did the same thing after all) and I also understood how easily and completely she could be pulled back into it (this is a recurring theme in my own life).

THE HOME PLACE is written with the sharp, clean prose of a literary heavyweight and paced with compelling must-know-more suspense. It is exactly the sort of novel I adore. Smart. Searing. Redemptive. I read this novel quickly (that’s always my litmus test) and thought about the characters when I wasn’t with them. I loved the contemplation of home: why we leave it, why we yearn for it, and why, ultimately, we always return. And try as I might, I was not able to solve the mystery of Vicky’s death in advance. A truly well done mystery.

It’s been a long time since I found myself missing the jagged peaks and sagebrush mesas of my own home. But after reading this novel I found myself wrestling with the sudden urge to return to New Mexico, a place not so very different than the Billings, Montana of Carrie La Seur’s beautiful debut novel.

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What If: The Question Every Author (And Mother) Asks

Today’s post by Ann Lewis Hamilton

Ann Lewis HamiltonSometimes when I look at my daughter, I marvel at the journey that brought us together – a woman from a small southern town who ended up living in Los Angeles and an orphaned infant from the streets of Calcutta.

The “what ifs” start before that.  My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.  Suppose I had carried that baby to term?  Would it have been a girl?  A boy?  If I’d had that child, does that mean I wouldn’t have given birth to my wonderful son?  (I missed biology in high school, so I don’t know how things like that work.)

What if.   When my husband and I tried to have another child after Max, what if we had been been successful?  Successful at least twice so we’d be a family with three biological children.  My husband and I had always talked of adoption, but with three biological children, would we have stopped?

What if.  We didn’t go very far down the infertility road, only to IUI (intrauterine insemination).  The first time was successful, but I had another miscarriage.  Suppose I hadn’t?  By then we were looking into international adoption.  There was a point where I was pregnant and expecting in the spring and we’d been told our adoptive daughter would arrive around the same time.  So in addition to our son, would we suddenly have two infants?  Would we have stopped the adoption process?

Not in a million years.  My husband and I joked about how crazy our lives would have been if it had worked out that way.  Things happen for a reason.  But do they?  The miscarriages and fertility treatments – I have a hard time wrapping my head around how pain and heartbreak make you a stronger person.  Really?  I think I’d be just as strong without having gone through that.  (On the other hand, I never would have been about to write a book about infertility.)

We never found out why I had a hard time getting pregnant or had miscarriages.  But what if we had?  How far would we have gone to have another child?  In my novel, Alan talks about never feeling the need to replicate himself.  My husband and I felt the same way.  We didn’t need a replica of ourselves or a blend of our genetic material.  Color, nationality, sex of the child, none of that made a difference to us.

I’d like to think we have the best of both worlds.  A birth child and an adopted child.  But when I look at my son and daughter, that’s not what I see.  I see my children.

* * *

ExpectingA mom, a dad, a baby…and another dad.

Laurie and Alan are expecting, again. After two miscarriages, Laurie was afraid they’d never be able to have a child. Now she’s cautiously optimistic — the fertility treatment worked, and things seem to be different this time around. But she doesn’t yet know how different.

Jack can’t seem to catch a break — his parents are on his case about graduating from college, he’s somehow dating two girls at once, and he has to find a way to pay back the money he borrowed from his fraternity’s party fund. The only jobs he is qualified for barely pay enough to keep him in beer money, but an ad for the local sperm bank gives Jack an idea.

Laurie and Alan’s joy is shattered when their doctor reveals that Laurie was accidentally impregnated by sperm from a donor rather than her husband. Who is Donor 296. And how will their family change now that Donor 296 is inarguably part of it?

* * *

Ann Lewis Hamilton has written for film and television. EXPECTING is her first novel.

Ann Lewis Hamilton’s television credits include, among others, Grey’s Anatomy, Stephen King’s Dead Zone, and thirtysomething. She co-edits a small online literary magazine, Hot Valley Writers, and writes a blog, Book Club for One. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia in a house full of typewriters – her grandfather was the editor of the local newspaper where her father worked as a reporter and her mother wrote for the society page. Ann’s goal was to write and draw for MAD magazine, but instead she graduated with a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from UCLA. However, she still has a subscription to MAD.

When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time as a amateur astronaut. (Not really, but she has seen Gravity three times and would consider being an astronaut if she got to meet George Clooney.)

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