The Books of Summer: Week Five

Today’s post by Nicole Mary Kelby | @nmkelby

And so, we come to the end. Not the end of summer (thankfully!) but to the end of our Books of Summer series. Last up is a new-to-us author, Nicole Mary Kelby, whose new novel THE PINK SUIT, is based on the suit made famous by Jackie Kennedy. Our final set of all five novels in this series is up for grabs today (see the entry form below). But there’s still a bit of time left to enter the giveaway from previous last week here.

The Books of Summer Collage

The Pink SuitA novel based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. 

On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits.

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady’s perfection. And when the pink suit becomes infamous, Kate’s already fragile world–divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood–threatens to rip apart.

The Pink Suit is a fascinating look at politics, fashion, and some of the most glamorous women in history, seen through the eyes of a young woman caught in the midst of an American breed of upstairs/downstairs class drama.

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What We’re Into: June 2014

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

Founder's Collage.jpg

June is the official kickoff to summer break, but Ariel and I are still looking for the “break” part. We’ve been working hard on writing and blogging and managing households that now involve lots of little people home from school who like to eat and eat and did we mention that they like to eat? A lot. As in relentlessly. In the rare moments that one or the other of us is not wandering aimlessly through a grocery store we have found  stumbled onto a few favorite things.

Bleating:

This is what you do when words fail to describe your misery and all there is left to do is bleat. When that THING happens because that PERSON you feel RAGE toward shows up in your life again? Bleat. When you are your worst self and just need to let it out in a safe place with someone who will love you anyway? Bleat. Ariel and I have agreed that bleating should be reserved for only your most trusted friends. Very few friendships can endure bleating. But the ones that can? They’re keepers.

“Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out. Just as they are–chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

–Dinah Maria (Mulock) Craik, 1826 – 1887

Because really, no matter how funny and charming and wonderful you really are, bleating makes you sound like this:

Sleeping: 

Did you know that “Missing one or two hours of sleep for one night will not only reduce your energy level, it can decrease your brain power by one third? Lack of sleep does more damage than lack of food.” I’m a big fan of sleeping and this statistic only empowers me. May 2014 be known as THE SUMMER OF THE NAP. And in case you need to be persuaded: five reasons why you should take a nap every day. (Ariel here. I took an hour-long nap today and it was glorious. I woke up happier than I’d been all day.)

Reading: 

(Marybeth) I loved this literary toolbox post by memoirist Addie Zierman. As someone who is supposed to be teaching high schoolers to write memoir this fall, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

(Ariel) I’m a bit out of whack right now. I recently started writing a new novel and ran up against a brick wall with my reading. This happens every time I turn my mind to storytelling. Something shifts in my brain at the beginning stages of a new book and I simply can’t read fiction. I can’t think straight. All those other wonderful, finished, brilliant novels start messing with my mind and I either mimic that author’s voice or I convince myself that I am writing the worst book that has ever been written in the history of ever. This is no bueno. Last time I started a novel I made the terrible mistake of trying to read Hillary Mantel’s brilliant, illuminating WOLF HALL. It sent me down such a miserable spiral of gloom it’s a wonder I ever finished my book at all. BUT I learned that I can read memoir and biography and narrative non-fiction during this stage of the creative process. Thankfully I knew this day was coming so I’ve been stocking up. These are the books I plan on reading until I leap my current mental hurdle (and yes, I know, I’m SO late to the party on a couple of these):

Memoir Collage

Bingeing:

(Marybeth) on books, what else? Ok there may have been some junk food and wine bingeing going on in June, but then again, what is summer for if not that? The books I’ve binged on so far this summer are the new ones by Liane Moriarty, Elin Hildebrand, Emily Giffin, and Jen Weiner. There’s a reason these writers are at the top of their game.

(Ariel) I can not even begin to explain the amount of fruit we have gone through at my house over the last month (see above–children, especially male children, will eat you out of house and home). Watermelon. Peaches. Grapes. Cherries. Strawberries. Cantaloupe. All of my favorite summer fruits are in season right now and I’ve loved every sweet, sticky, dripping moment of it.

Oh! My husband and I are also in the middle of a BOURNE movie marathon. We’ve watched one together every night for the last few nights. They need to hurry up and make number five. We’re running out.

Question: What are YOU into right now?

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The Books Of Summer: Week Four

Today’s post by author Linda Francis Lee | @LindaFrancisLee

Week four in our “Book of Summer” series brings us to Linda Francis Lee and her novel THE GLASS KITCHEN. It’s the perfect summer read. Food. Love. Sisters. Manhattan. What more could you want? As we’ve done each week in this series, we have all five books up for grabs. (See the entry form below) You can also read about the other novels we’ve featured so far and enter the giveaways here, here, and here.

The Books of Summer Collage

Linda Francis Lee

Linda Francis Lee

As a Texan living in New York City, I am always struck by the fact that I grew up in wide open spaces but have come to love such a contained place like Manhattan – an island, a place that can only be reached by bridges or tunnels. Living in New York City, I am worlds away from both my hometown and my family. When I started plotting THE GLASS KITCHEN, I was thinking a lot about the sorts of friendships I was making here – deep, rich bonds with friends who had become like family. We had elegant dinner parties and impromptu dinners thrown together with whatever we had in the refrigerator. Despite being so far away from home, I was reminded of growing up with my own mother’s dinner parties, and the magic good food has when combined with friends and family. What, I wondered, would happen if I had a sister from Texas who moves to Manhattan. I couldn’t wait to start plotting!

The Glass Kitchen is primarily the story of Portia Cuthcart, a youngest sister, as she makes her way in a city world that is so different from the one she came from. But it is also the story of Ariel, the man upstairs’ daughter, sister to Miranda, who at twelve is also trying to find her way, to solve the mystery to why her own little family suddenly finds themselves in Manhattan as well. It is the bond that Portia and Ariel form that helps each of them find their way to unravel secrets of their pasts and forge a path to possibilities for the future.  But sometimes the love of family can get in the way.  Just because one person wants the past unraveled, doesn’t mean everyone else wants that too. I loved exploring the idea that sometimes you have to decide how to move forward when your freedom from secrets means someone else might get hurt?  If you love someone, how much are you willing to risk in order to live fully? The Glass Kitchen is a novel of full of friends and laughter, sisters and cooking, falling in love and risking everything in order to find what it means to be family.

* * *

The Glass KitchenWith the glass kitchen, Linda Francis Lee has served up a novel that is about the courage
it takes to follow your heart and be yourself. A true recipe for life.

Portia Cuthcart never intended to leave Texas. Her dream was to run the Glass Kitchen restaurant her grandmother built decades ago. But after a string of betrayals and the loss of her legacy, Portia is determined to start a new life with her sisters in Manhattan . . . and never cook again. But when she moves into a dilapidated brownstone on the Upper West Side, she meets twelve-year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel, a man with his hands full trying to raise two daughters on his own. Soon, a promise made to her sisters forces Portia back into a world of magical food and swirling emotions, where she must confront everything she has been running from. What seems so simple on the surface is anything but when long-held secrets are revealed, rivalries exposed, and the promise of new love stirs to life like chocolate mixing with cream.

The Glass Kitchen is a delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman washed up on the shores of Manhattan who discovers that a kitchen—like an island—can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family.

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2013-11-11 Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson Is the November 2013 She Reads Book Club Selection

Media Contact: Alison Law pdf-icon

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson Is the November 2013 She Reads Book Club Selection

More than 70 She Reads bloggers will read and review Jackson’s book as part of a month-long series of online and in-person discussions about the novel.

CHARLOTTE, NC (November 11, 2013) – She Reads, a national book club and online community for women readers, announces that its November 2013 selection is Someone Else’s Love Story, a novel by New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson. Every month, She Reads recommends one book as its official book club selection, hosts online discussions about the book and features special content from the author. Members of the She Reads Blog Network, comprised of more than 70 savvy, talented and intelligent book bloggers, read the monthly selection and review it on their personal websites.

Someone Else’s Love Story will be released by William Morrow/HarperCollins on November 19. “William Morrow is absolutely thrilled to have Joshilyn Jackson’s Someone Else’s Love Story as the She Reads Pick for November,” said Ben Bruton, Senior Director of Publicity at William Morrow. “What better hands and hearts than the book lovers at She Reads to get this book the attention it so richly deserves.”

Other esteemed organizations and publications join She Reads in recognizing Someone Else’s Love Story. The novel is a #1 Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a SIBA Okra Pick and a LibraryReads Selection. “While all of Joshilyn’s fiction is extraordinary, this new novel is truly a work for all seasons, and should be considered by readers and reviewers alike as her finest ever,” said Jacques de Spoelberch, Jackson’s literary agent.

Someone Else’s Love Story is Jackson’s sixth novel. Her previous titles are gods in Alabama, Between, Georgia, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Backseat Saints and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. In advance of her latest novel, Jackson wrote an e-original short story, My Own Miraculous, a standalone adventure featuring one of the main characters from Someone Else’s Love Story.

When notified that her book would be the November She Reads Book Club selection, Joshilyn Jackson said, “Thank you, She Reads, for this wonderful opportunity to connect with a huge community of smart and ardent readers. When I think about the coordinators, the bloggers, the business partners, the online book clubs, the indie store-based book clubs, the neighborhood book clubs and a host of reading individuals all combining under one banner and reading a single title together—you are nothing short of amazing. You are creating a reader-driven, national book club. I am so happy to have Someone Else’s Love Story—a book I love, a book I am so proud of—be your November pick!”

Key Dates for the November 2013 She Reads Book Club Selection

  • November 11, 2013: She Reads announces its November selection and reviews begin to be posted by She Reads Blog Network members
  • November 18, 2013: She Reads hosts a live Twitter chat (organized by hashtag – #srbkchat) with Joshilyn Jackson and co-hosts a live author chat with BookTrib
  • November 19, 2013: Someone Else’s Love Story is released

About Someone Else’s Love Story

For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She’s finishing college; raising her delightful three-year-old genius son, Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo; and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced Christian mother and Jewish father. She’s got enough to deal with before she gets caught in the middle of a stickup in a gas station mini-mart and falls in love with a great wall of a man named William Ashe, who steps between the armed robber and her son to shield the child from danger.

Shandi doesn’t know that her blond god has his own baggage. When he looked down the barrel of the gun in the gas station he believed it was destiny: it’s been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn’t define destiny the way other people do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in science and numbers, destiny to him is about choice.

Now, William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

Someone Else’s Love Story is Joshilyn Jackson’s funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love and learning that things aren’t always what they seem—or what we hope they will be. It’s a story about discovering what we want and ultimately finding what we need.

About Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. For more information, visit JoshilynJackson.com, the author’s website and home of her “Faster Than Kudzu” blog. Follow @JoshilynJackson on Twitter or like her Facebook author page.

About She Reads

Founded in September 2009 by authors Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon, She Reads is a national book club and online community that recommends books for women readers and features some of today’s most popular and talented writers. Based on the principle that “Story is the shortest distance to the human heart,” She Reads selects and shares the fiction titles they love with a growing online audience of more than 10,000 monthly visitors at SheReads.org.

In 2012, She Reads launched the She Reads Blog network, which has grown to more than 70 bloggers who write and post online reviews of She Reads Book Club selections on their personal websites. In 2013, She Reads began hosting Twitter chats with featured authors and took its book club concept to select independent bookstores where designated book club leaders facilitate in-person discussions of the monthly She Reads Book Club selection.

Learn more by following @SheReadsBookClb on Twitter or liking the She Reads Facebook page.

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The Bigs: Women’s Fiction

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

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the bestselling authors around here because we assume you will already know about these blockbuster writers’ new novels. But just in case you don’t, here are the big women’s fiction novels releasing this summer (“the bigs” as we like to call them) just in time for vacation reading!

Big Little LiesBIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . .

A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.

But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

The MatchmakerTHE MATCHMAKER by Elin Hilderbrand

A touching new novel from bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand in which a woman sets out to find love for those closest to her – before it’s too late.

48-year-old Nantucketer Dabney Kimball Beech has always had a gift for matchmaking. Some call her ability mystical, while others – like her husband, celebrated economist John Boxmiller Beech, and her daughter, Agnes, who is clearly engaged to the wrong man – call it meddlesome, but there’s no arguing with her results: With 42 happy couples to her credit and all of them still together, Dabney has never been wrong about romance.

Never, that is, except in the case of herself and Clendenin Hughes, the green-eyed boy who took her heart with him long ago when he left the island to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist. Now, after spending 27 years on the other side of the world, Clen is back on Nantucket, and Dabney has never felt so confused, or so alive.

But when tragedy threatens her own second chance, Dabney must face the choices she’s made and share painful secrets with her family. Determined to make use of her gift before it’s too late, she sets out to find perfect matches for those she loves most. The Matchmaker is a heartbreaking story about losing and finding love, even as you’re running out of time.

The One and OnlyTHE ONE AND ONLY by Emily Giffin

Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

Thoughtful, funny, and brilliantly observed, The One & Only is a luminous novel about finding your passion, following your heart, and, most of all, believing in something bigger than yourself . . . the one and only thing that truly makes life worth living.

all fall downALL FALL  DOWN by Jennifer Weiner

Allison Weiss got her happy ending—a handsome husband, an adorable little girl, a job she loves, and a big house in the suburbs. But when she’s in the pediatrician’s office with her daughter and a magazine flips open to a quiz about addiction, she starts to wonder whether her use of prescription pills is becoming a problem. On the one hand, it’s just prescription medication, the stuff her doctors give her. Is a Percocet at the end of a hard day really different than a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class…or after your husband ignores you?

Back in the car, with her daughter safely buckled behind her, Allison opens the Altoid tin in her purse and slips a chalky white oval underneath her tongue. The pill unties her knotted muscles, erases the grime and ugliness of the city, soothes her as she frets about the truth of her looking-good life: that her husband’s becoming distant, that her daughter is acting out, that her father’s early Alzheimer’s is worsening and her mother’s barely managing to cope. She tells herself that the pills let her make it through her days…but what if her ever-increasing drug use, a habit that’s becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all?

All Fall Down is the story of a woman’s slide into addiction and struggle to find her way back up again. With a sparkling comedic touch and tender, true-to-life characterizations, this tale of empowerment and redemption is Jennifer Weiner’s most poignant, timely, and triumphant story yet.

save the dateSAVE THE DATE by Mary Kay Andrews

A savannah florist is about to score the wedding of a lifetime—one that will solidify her career as the go-to-girl for society nuptials. Ironically, Cara Kryzik doesn’t believe in love, even though she creates beautiful flower arrangements to celebrate them. But when the bride goes missing and the wedding is in jeopardy, Cara must find the bride and figure out what she believes in.  Maybe love really does exist outside of fairy tales after all.

Told with Mary Kay Andrews’ trademark wit and keen eye for detail, mark your calendars for Save the Date!

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The Books of Summer: Week Three

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

We’re at the midpoint in our Books of Summer series and we can’t think of a better author to anchor this five week journey than Karen White. She’s bright, funny, prolific, and truly one of the kindest authors you’ll ever meet. She also happens to be a fantastic writer. Karen opened her home to Marybeth and I on a trip to Atlanta earlier this year and I will forever be grateful for her hospitality. We’re certain that you will adore her new novel, A LONG TIME GONE. And as we have each week so far, we not only have Karen’s novel up for grabs today, but all of our Books of Summer. (See the entry form below for details.) There’s still plenty of time to enter our giveaways for Week One and Week Two.

The Books of Summer Collage

Karen White

Karen White

The Most Southern Place on Earth

I spent my entire childhood feeling homeless.   I always had a nice home with a bedroom of my own (although I had to share a bathroom with my three brothers—something from which I have not yet fully recovered), but I never had a hometown because of my father’s job that had us moving often.  We lived in London, England for seven years, so it wasn’t really a hardship.  But I always felt that being without a hometown was.

My mother was born in a small town in the Mississippi Delta.  She lived around the corner from her grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins.  The small house on West Augusta Street, with its two bedrooms and one bath was the home my mother was born in and where my grandmother lived all of her married life and where she raised her five daughters and one son.

Wherever we were in the world, my summer vacation was never really complete unless I spent time in Indianola.  There wasn’t much there, even back then.  But it was a place where I could kick off my shoes with my cousins and run around town where people would know me as “Catherine Anne’s girl.”

It would be hotter than Hades, and the mosquitoes and chiggers would eat me alive, but I loved it.  They call the Mississippi Delta the most “Southern place on earth.”  It’s a place of flat, fertile fields filled with cotton in the summer time, and succulent food.  People talk more slowly, drive more slowly.  Children use the words “ma’am” and “sir”.

My grandmother’s house overflowed with family photographs.  In a place of honor was a framed newspaper clipping from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not from 1934.  It’s a photograph of six generations of women in my family—and my mother is the baby held in my grandmother’s arms (although the name is incorrectly attributed to be my mother’s cousin Rosemary—a family scandal!).

Ripleys

I would spend hours sitting under my grandmother’s kitchen table listening to my mother and grandmother and four aunts doing their Southern sister girl talk.  Those are the voices I still hear when creating the strong Southern women in my books.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would set a story about mothers and daughters in the Delta.  A LONG TIME GONE is about three generations of women who are destined to leave their Delta cotton farm, but whatever drives them away is never stronger than the pull of what brings them back.  Add to that the body of a woman buried in the roots of a cypress tree, the historic Mississippi River flood of 1927, a daughter struggling with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and a love story twenty years in the making, and I knew I had book.

Through my writing I’ve discovered that home isn’t a geographical place.  It’s a place where your people are.  It’s a place where you can sit under an old Formica kitchen table and know that you are surrounded by love.

* * *

A Long Time Gone“We Walker women were born screaming into this world, the beginning of a lifelong quest to find what would quiet us. But whatever drove us away was never stronger than the pull of what brought us back….” 

When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had. But in the spring, nine years to the day since she’d left, that’s exactly what happens—Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children.

What she hopes to find is solace with “Bootsie,” her dear grandmother who raised her, a Walker woman with a knack for making everything all right. But instead she finds that her grandmother has died and that her estranged mother is drifting further away from her memories. Now Vivien is forced into the unexpected role of caretaker, challenging her personal quest to find the girl she herself once was.

But for Vivien things change in ways she cannot imagine when a violent storm reveals the remains of a long-dead woman buried near the Walker home, not far from the cypress swamp that is soon to give up its ghosts. Vivien knows there is now only one way to rediscover herself—by uncovering the secrets of her family and breaking the cycle of loss that has haunted them for generations.

* * *

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Picture This: A Visit With Courtney Collins

Today’s post by debut author Courtney Collins | @CC-Writer

Courtney Collins, photo credit Lisa Madden

Courtney Collins, photo credit Lisa Madden

I had a physical reaction when I first saw this mug shot of Jessie Hickman (also known as Jessie McIntyre) in a prison logbook from the early 1900s.

Jessie is the unlikely heroine of my novel The Untold. Years ago, when I first set myself on the investigative trail to uncover some evidence of her life and crimes, I took myself out to State Records in western Sydney. The prison logbooks there are ancient-looking things, huge and leather-bound, each page devoted to a single convict, detailing his or her height, weight, distinguishing features, and crimes committed. At the front of the book, the names of the convicts are listed by date in the order of admission, written in swirling copperplate—the male inmates in blue or black ink and the women always in red.

Although I was now deep in research, I nonetheless was formulating elegant arguments in my head about why I didn’t want to write The Untold. I wanted to write fiction, I told myself, and this was a true story, a real flesh-and-blood life. How could I go there?

But then I literally turned a page and found Jessie’s mug shot. The wild woman I had heard about since I was a teenager, growing up near where she roamed, was finally staring back at me.

Old sepia photos have a quality that seems more lifelike than any modern print I have ever seen. And so it was with this image of Jessie Hickman. Her coal-dark eyes spoke worlds. My throat tingled and I felt ill in my gut. Would I be punished for fictionalizing her life?

Jessie Hickman Mugshot

Jessie Hickman Mugshot

I photocopied the image at State Records and, I don’t know why, it turned out to be very pink. Not withstanding, I took it home, framed it, and hung it above my desk. For about a year, on and off, I tried to give voice to Jessie Hickman, to tell her story from her point of view. It turns out, though, she was a woman of action, not of words, and despite all my conjuring and extreme willfulness, the words I put into her mouth fell flat at my feet.

Jessie’s mug shot was such an intimidating presence above my desk, I don’t know why I didn’t pull it down and hide it out of sight. But instead she remained there that whole year as I flapped about beneath it. I even began talking to her, saying, “You know, if you don’t want me to do this, there are other things I could do.” But I found no easy release from her story.

By accident, and to my surprise, I did find a way to tell it—through the voice of her buried child. There are no images of the child. In fact, it may not have even existed. But, to me, this child became the most tangible and therefore knowable part of Jessie. It was what made her vulnerable, the small and tender heart she had to forsake in order to survive.

And what is the color of that heart? It is red and pink. And I can’t help but wonder now if while I was on Jessie Hickman’s trail she was beginning to point the way through the red ink and the pink photocopy to say, “Start with my heart. Start there.”

* * *

The Untold jacketA woman has done an unspeakable thing…

It is 1921. In a mountain-locked valley, amid squalls of driving rain, Jessie is on the run. Born wild and brave, by 26 she has already lived life as a circus rider, horse and cattle rustler and convict. But on this fateful night she is just a woman wanting to survive though there is barely any life left in her. She mounts her horse and points it towards the highest mountain in sight. Soon bands of men will crash through the bushland desperate to claim the reward on her head. And in their wake will be two more men, one her lover, the other the law, both uncertain if they should save her or themselves. But as it has always been for Jessie, it is death, not a man, who is her closest pursuer and companion. And while all odds are stacked against her, there is one who will never give up on her – her own child, who awaits her. The Untold, both heartbreaking and exhilarating, ultimately sings out for life and then grips onto it, with tooth and broken nail.

* * *

Courtney Collins grew up in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia. She completed her first novel, THE UNTOLD, in an old postmaster’s cottage on the Goulburn River in regional Victoria. She now lives in a sea-side town in NSW and is working on her second novel.

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Summer Suspense Novels

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

As summer gets into full swing we wanted to share some thrilling novels– the kind that keep you reading fast and guessing till the end. If you’re anything like us, your poolside reading list wouldn’t be complete without a couple white-knuckle summer suspense novels. Here are a few of the best.

Bliss HouseBLISS HOUSE by Laura Benedict

Death never did come quietly for Bliss House . . . and now a mother and daughter have become entwined in the secrets hidden within its walls.

Amidst the lush farmland and orchards in Old Gate, Virginia, stands the magnificent Bliss House. Built in 1878 as a country retreat, Bliss House is impressive, historic, and inexplicably mysterious. Decades of strange occurrences, disappearances and deaths have plagued the house, yet it remains vibrant. And very much alive.

Rainey Bliss Adams desperately needed a new start when she and her daughter Ariel relocated from St. Louis to Old Gate and settled into the house where the Bliss family had lived for over a century. Rainey’s husband had been killed in a freak explosion that left her 14 year-old daughter Ariel scarred and disfigured.

At the grand housewarming party, Bliss House begins to reveal itself again. Ariel sees haunting visions: the ghost of her father, and the ghost of a woman being pushed to her death off of an upper floor balcony, beneath an exquisite dome of painted stars. And then there is a death the night of the party. Who is the murderer in the midst of this small town? And who killed the woman in Ariel’s visions? But Bliss House is loath to reveal its secrets, as are the good folks of Old Gate.

The Fever

THE FEVER by Megan Abbott

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

 

Until You're MineUNTIL YOU’RE MINE by Samantha Hayes

You’re alone. You’re vulnerable. And you have something that someone else wants. At any cost.

Claudia Morgan-Brown finally has it all. Pregnant with a much-wanted first baby of her own, she has a happily established family of two small step-sons and a loving husband with a great career. But she is also committed to her full-time job as a social worker, and her husband travels often. So when Claudia hires Zoe to help her around the house in anticipation of the baby’s arrival, it seems like the answer to her prayers. But despite Zoe’s glowing recommendations and instant rapport with the children, there’s something about her that Claudia cannot trust.

Moreover, there has been a series of violent attacks on pregnant women in the area, and Claudia becomes acutely aware of her vulnerability. With her husband out of town for work and her family far away, who will be there to protect her? And why does she feel unsettled about Zoe? Realizing appearances can be deceiving even in her seemingly perfect world, Claudia digs deeper into Zoe’s blurry past and begins to wonder – how far would someone go to have a child of her own?

Riveting from its very first pages, Until You’re Mine is a multilayered masterwork of twisted, psychological suspense. Readers of Before I Go to Sleep and Turn of Mind will be enthralled by this multilayered novel, featuring a twisted plot that ends in a breathtaking and shocking finale.

Don't Try To Find MeDON’T TRY TO FIND ME by Holly Brown

When a fourteen-year-old runs away, her parents turn to social media to find her—launching a public campaign that will expose their darkest secrets and change their family forever, in this suspenseful and gripping debut for fans of Reconstructing Amelia and Gone Girl.

Don’t try to find me. Though the message on the kitchen white board is written in Marley’s hand, her mother Rachel knows there has to be some other explanation. Marley would never run away.

As the days pass and it sinks in that the impossible has occurred, Rachel and her husband Paul are informed that the police have “limited resources.” If they want their fourteen-year-old daughter back, they will have to find her themselves. Desperation becomes determination when Paul turns to Facebook and Twitter, and launches FindMarley.com.

But Marley isn’t the only one with secrets.

With public exposure comes scrutiny, and when Rachel blows a television interview, the dirty speculation begins. Now, the blogosphere is convinced Rachel is hiding something. It’s not what they think; Rachel would never hurt Marley. Not intentionally, anyway. But when it’s discovered that she’s lied, even to the police, the devoted mother becomes a suspect in Marley’s disappearance.

Is Marley out there somewhere, watching it all happen, or is the truth something far worse?

DesperateDESPERATE by Daniel Palmer

Brimming with suspense and unrelenting twists, acclaimed author Daniel Palmer’s latest thriller delves into the waking nightmare of a well meaning couple whose biggest–and most ordinary–dream has gone terrifyingly awry.

Gage Dekker still blames himself for the car accident that claimed the lives of his first wife and young son. Then he meets Anna, who understands grief all too well. Within a year, Gage and Anna are married, his career is thriving, and both feel ready to become parents once more.

After a heartbreaking miscarriage, they begin the long adoption process, until fate brings Lily into their lives. Young, pregnant, and homeless, Lily agrees to give her baby to Gage and Anna in exchange for financial support. It’s the perfect arrangement for everyone. Seeing his wife’s happiness and optimism for their new life and child, Gage begins to feel a sense of hope he thought he’d lost forever.

But something isn’t right once Lily enters their lives. At work and at home, Gage is being sabotaged, first in subtle ways, then things take a more sinister turn. Every attempt he makes to uncover the truth only drives a wedge between him and Anna. Even as he’s propelled toward an unthinkable choice to save his marriage and his job, Gage discovers that the most chilling revelations are still to come. . .

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The Books of Summer: Week Two

Today’s post by She Reads co-founder and all around amazing gal, Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Week Two in our Books of Summer series brings us to a truly special book and a woman who I have grown to love so much I consider her a sister. Some friends become more than friends, they become family, and Marybeth has been that kind of friend to me. Marybeth understands Story in a way that few people do and her fifth novel, THE BRIDGE TENDER, is by far her best yet. We have a copy up for grabs today, along with the other four novels in our series. (See the entry form below for details). And you can still enter the giveaway for week one here.

The Books of Summer Collage

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

The Bridge in The Bridge Tender

Call me slow on the draw but the bridge symbolism in my new book wasn’t immediately apparent to me when I began writing. I conceived of the book idea just like I had conceived of several of my other novel ideas– on a visit to Sunset Beach, NC. The place itself evokes a feeling of escape, traveling back to a simpler time, and all the things a beach vacation should be. But on this visit the quaint and unpredictable pontoon bridge that had originally connected the island to the mainland was being replaced by a sleek, hulking, dependable structure arcing across the sky. The citizens and regular visitors of Sunset Beach were divided over the bridge’s demise, and it was this debate– and the passionate feelings associated with the bridge– that spurred me to write a novel about it.

It was only after I started crafting the story that I realized what I was doing. As I told the story about a young widow who must journey to Sunset Beach to fulfill her husband’s last wish for her and gets drawn into the community’s debate about the fate of the bridge, I was also telling a story about the bridges in our lives. Bridges, I came to understand, are the things that take us from where we’ve been to where we’re going. They connect us from our past to our present. They serve us well, if we let them. Yet sometimes we are resistant to crossing those bridges. We want to stay safely on the familiar side. We are afraid of the journey across, of what waits for us.

The old Sunset Beach bridge. Photo credit: http://www.seatrailownerrentals.com/

The old Sunset Beach bridge. Photo credit: http://www.seatrailownerrentals.com/

Sometimes we just need other people to make the journey with us. Sometimes we need assurance that there are going to be friendly faces there to greet us on the other side. Sometimes we need time to prepare to cross, and we need the people in our lives to let us take that time. My main character, Emily, needed all of this as she journeyed out of grief and into hope one halting step at a time.

I gave Emily what she needed, what we all need. I gave her new friends and old ones, someone who needed her, someone who she might need, people who made her laugh, who drew her back into fun and laughter and living again, people who also let her cry and play the same sad song over and over. I let her linger in safety, but I also pushed her towards the unknown. And in the end, I let her learn to trust that the bridge would take her where she needed to go.

Every book teaches me something about life. This one taught me about bridges, and getting where we need to go. And that, no matter what our journey looks like, there are always ways to get safely across.

* * *

tbtA surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.

On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina—this time to buy their own home.

But that dream was not to be. Seven years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.

Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.

Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.

Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of the locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life—and new love—that her lost love made possible.

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Bloggers to Bloggers: Our Visit With Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Today’s interview is with Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke | @LizandLisa

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been friends and bloggers for a very long time. But this summer they’ve added something new to their repertoire: co-authors. And this is something that deeply fascinates Marybeth and I. We’ve followed Liz and Lisa’s blog for some time. They’re bright, generous, and funny. And they’ve managed to do something we have only talked about. Write a book together. So we sat down with them at the first opportunity to see how it’s done. They have kindly returned the favor and interviewed us here.

Liz and Lisa’s debut novel, YOUR PERFECT LIFE, releases today (make sure you pick up two or three from your local indie bookstore) and we have a copy up for grabs today. See the link below for entry details.

Liz and Lisa

Marybeth: The two of you co-authored YOUR PERFECT LIFE. Many women might fantasize about how fun it would be to co-author a book with their best friend (Ariel and I have circled the idea for years). How does the fantasy align with the reality?

L&L: Hmm, well like most things, it sounded much easier in theory. For years, we fantasized about writing a book together. But once we started the process, we realized it was going to be a lot harder than we’d thought. We never considered that we would have to agree not just on the plot and characters, but every single word. True story: We once argued over whether the word start or begin was better! We forget who won that battle. But where the fantasy and reality met head on was the joy of creating a book together. That part has been awesome. Despite our occasional heated debates, we do make a great writing team, as we suspected we would. Where one of us lacks, the other seems to prevail. And because we’ve known each other for so long, our writing voices are so similar that we often can’t recall who wrote what. Well, unless it’s the word, start or begin. That, we’ll never forget!

Ariel: It takes a certain kind of tenacity to seriously pursue writing novels AND blogging about them (and a hat tip to both of you for doing so). How do you think being long-time book bloggers has impacted your writing?

L&L: Thank you! The way being long-time book bloggers has impacted our writing the most is through what we’ve learned about the publishing world and books in general. We’ve had so much great exposure to seasoned authors who have taught us so much through the quality books they have written. We’ve also had a lot of “behind the scenes” information that has helped us navigate the publishing world in a way we might not have been able to without our blogging experiences.

Marybeth: What most inspires you? Liz? Lisa?

Liz: Hope inspires me.  That hope when I open my eyes each morning that life will take me on an adventure, that all the best moments in my life are still yet to come-that it will just keep on getting better.

Lisa: My three-year-old daughter. Watching her respond to the beauty of the world (the other day she remarked on the gorgeous sky), still so naïve about the “bad things,” reminds me to appreciate the little things that really, can be so big if you pay attention.

Ariel: You’ve been friends for twenty years. And YOUR PERFECT LIFE is about life-long friends who wake up on the day after their twentieth reunion to find that they’ve switched bodies. Having known one another so long do you ever feel like you could step in the other one’s life and live it for her? Or do you still find that there are surprises and little mysteries about your best friend?

L&L: Great question! The reason we wrote the book is because we came to a point in our thirties where we realized how much we didn’t know about the other’s life. Despite being best friends, we’d become so busy in our drastically different lives (Liz was married with two kids, while, at the time, Lisa was still single) and had drifted apart. We now know a whole lot more about each other, but would still never assume we could just step in. Plus, the whole “husband swapping” thing would be really awkward!

Marybeth: You both have busy lives like us– writing books, keeping up with a very active blog, and managing family life. What one time management skill helps you most?

L&L: We both agree on this one. Hands down, it’s the shared calendar in our iPhones. We both share our personal family calendars with our husbands, which helps us keep on track. And we also have a calendar we share, full of book deadlines, etc, which helps us remember, well, everything!

Liz and Lisa 2

Congrats, ladies! Such a wonderful accomplishment. We’re cheering you on!

* * *

Your Perfect LifeTwo childhood best friends wake up the morning after their twentieth high school reunion to discover that they’ve switched bodies in this hilarious and heartwarming debut by two childhood best friends.

With “a delicious, page-turning premise, and sweet and surprising insights” (New York Timesbestselling author Jen Lancaster), Your Perfect Life perfectly illustrates that old adage: Sometimes, you have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to see what’s in her heart.

Best friends since childhood, Casey and Rachel couldn’t lead more different lives. While workaholic Casey rubs elbows with celebrities daily as the host of Gossip TV and comes home nightly to an empty apartment, stay-at-home mom Rachel juggles an “oops” baby, two fiery teenagers, and a husband who barely seems the man she fell in love with two decades before. After an argument at their twentieth high school reunion, Casey and Rachel throw back shots to get the night back on track. Instead, they get a life-changing hangover.

Waking up in each other’s bodies the next morning, they must figure out how to navigate their altered realities. Rachel is forced to face the broadcasting dreams she gave up when she got pregnant in college, and Casey finally steps out of the spotlight to face the real reason why she’s alone. And they soon discover that they don’t know themselves—or their best friend—nearly as well as they thought they did.

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke bring their “witty, winning style” (Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Best of Us) to every page of this novel that is sure to please fans of In Her Shoes and The Opposite of MeYour Perfect Life is a story of humor and heart about two best friends, what they didn’t know about each other, and how, by switching lives, each learns to appreciate her own.

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