Summer Reading Series: Chevy Stevens

Today’s post by bestselling author, Chevy Stevens | @ChevyStevens

Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Chevy Stevens. She’s the author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, ALWAYS WATCHING, THAT NIGHT (a She Reads book club selection), and fifth and newly released novel, THOSE GIRLS. We loved taking a peek inside Chevy’s beach bag. And we think you will agree that her summer reading is on point.

Summer Reading Series

I have a few books that have been waiting for me on my Kindle and I’m hoping to read them this summer during my annual family camping trip to Quadra Island, in British Columbia, Canada.

First up is GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I’ve heard great things but haven’t had time to read much more than the first couple of chapters, which were very intriguing.

I also want to finish FAMILY HISTORY by Dani Shapiro. I recently read her memoir SLOW MOTION and her book STILL WRITING and love her emotionally rich style.

I enjoy memoirs and devoured BORN WITH TEETH by Kate Mulgrew (aka Red on Orange is the New Black). It’s very well-written and fascinating.

Along those lines, I also finished JUST KIDS, Patti Smith’s book about her involvement with Robert Mapplethorpe, a famous artist who died of AIDS in the late eighties. It’s an intimate look into their love, loyalty, and friendship, spanning decades. It was very interesting to read about the art and musical scene of the sixties and seventies.

I also like anything that inspires me so I am hoping to read THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp.

And for fun, I want to read CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND by Kevin Kwan because I read CRAZY RICH ASIANS when it came out and it was the perfect beach read: decadent, funny, and romantic.

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Those GirlsLife has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s temper. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. As events spiral out of control they find themselves in a horrifying situation and are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer. But when one of the sisters goes missing, followed closely by her niece, they are pulled back into the past. And this time there’s nowhere left to run.

With Those Girls Chevy Stevens presents her most visceral thriller yet: an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil. A story of survival…and revenge.

* * *

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband in the local mountains.

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Five Upcoming Historical Novels To Pre-Order Now

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

If history is your bag, we’ve got just the books to tuck in your other bag– your beach bag. Be the first to read them by pre-ordering now. All five of these novels release this summer (some as early as June 2nd) but we like giving you the scoop a bit early. Click here to see a list of our favorite independent bookstores. All of them ship and all of them would be delighted to put these novels in your hands.

The Cherry HarvestTHE CHERRY HARVEST by Lucy Sanna

A memorable coming-of-age story and love story, laced with suspense, which explores a hidden side of the home front during World War II, when German POWs were put to work in a Wisconsin farm community . . . with dark and unexpected consequences.

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent—especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own—including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte’s secrets threaten to explode their world.

Mrs. Sinclaire's SuitcaseMRS SINCLAIR’S SUITCASE by Louise Walters

Roberta, a lonely thirty-four-year-old, works at The New and Old Bookshop in England. When she finds a letter inside her centenarian grandmother’s battered old suitcase that hints at a dark secret, her understanding of her family’s history is completely upturned. Running alongside Roberta’s narrative is that of her grandmother, Dorothy, as a forty-year-old childless woman desperate for motherhood during the early years of World War II. After a chance encounter with a Polish war pilot, Dorothy believes she’s finally found happiness, but instead she is faced with a dilemma so monumental, the consequences affect her granddaughter decades later. And so, the parallel stories of Roberta and Dorothy unravel over the course of eighty years as they both make their own ways through secrets, lies, sacrifices, and love.

The Woman In The PhotographTHE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH by Dana Gynther

Set in the romantic glow of 1920s Paris, a captivating novel of New York socialite and model Lee Miller, whose glamorous looks and joie de vivre caught the eye of Man Ray, one of the twentieth century’s defining photographers.

1929, Montparnasse. Model and woman about town Lee Miller moves to Paris determined to make herself known amidst the giddy circle of celebrated artists, authors, and photographers currently holding court in the city. She seeks out the charming, charismatic artist Man Ray to become his assistant but soon becomes much more than that: his model, his lover, his muse.

Coming into her own more fully every day, Lee models, begins working on her own projects, and even stars in a film, provoking the jealousy of the older and possessive Man Ray. Drinking and carousing is the order of the day, but while hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, she also falls in love with the art of photography and finds that her own vision can no longer come second to her mentor’s.

The Woman in the Photograph is the richly drawn, tempestuous novel about a talented and fearless young woman caught up in one of the most fascinating times of the twentieth century.

Hotel MoscowHOTEL MOSCOW by Talia Carner

From the author of Jerusalem Maiden comes a mesmerizing, thought-provoking novel that tells the riveting story of an American woman—the daughter of Holocaust survivors—who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism, and finds herself embroiled in a perilous mafia conspiracy that could irrevocably destroy her life.

Brooke Fielding, a thirty-eight year old New York investment manager and daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, finds her life suddenly upended in late September 1993 when her job is unexpectedly put in jeopardy. Brooke accepts an invitation to join a friend on a mission to Moscow to teach entrepreneurial skills to Russian business women, which will also give her a chance to gain expertise in the new, vast emerging Russian market. Though excited by the opportunity to save her job and be one of the first Americans to visit Russia after the fall of communism, she also wonders what awaits her in the country that persecuted her mother just a generation ago.

Inspired by the women she meets, Brooke becomes committed to helping them investigate the crime that threatens their businesses. But as the uprising of the Russian parliament against President Boris Yeltsin turns Moscow into a volatile war zone, Brooke will find that her involvement comes at a high cost. For in a city where “capitalism” is still a dirty word, where neighbors spy on neighbors and the new economy is in the hands of a few dangerous men, nothing Brooke does goes unnoticed—and a mistake in her past may now compromise her future.

A moving, poignant, and rich novel, Hotel Moscow is an eye-opening portrait of post-communist Russia and a profound exploration of faith, family, and heritage.

The Tide WatchersTHE TIDE WATCHERS by Lisa Chaplin

In the tradition of Jennifer Robson, comes this compelling debut that weaves the fascinating story of a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803.

Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.

A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and pledged to watch over his mentor’s only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.

Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell’s “turtle”—the first fully submersible ship—when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher’s help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte’s great secret.

When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country—but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she’s already lost it to another…?

A fast-paced, deeply-researched, and richly imagined novel, The Tide Watchers explores a long-hidden, chapter of Bonaparte’s history.

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Summer Reading Series: Natalie Baszile

Today’s post by Natalie Baszile | @NatalieBaszile

We’re delighted to visit with Natalie Baszile today. Natalie is the author of QUEEN SUGAR, a story of redemption set on a Louisiana sugarcane farm, soon to be adapted for television for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Today Natalie shares the books she’s reading this summer and we think you’ll find her to be lovely and charming and to have impeccable taste.

Summer Reading Series

The books in my beach bag are more varied this year. I’m usually drawn to realistic literary fiction, but I’ve heard such great things about these books that I’ve decided to mix things up.

Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom

I’ve been a huge Amy Bloom fan since I discovered her early story collections. My copy of Bloom’s critically acclaimed novel, Away, is so marked up and dog-eared, I’ve had to tape the pages together. So, imagine my delight when I learned, last summer, that she had written a new novel. Lucky Us, tells the story of half-sisters, Iris and Eva, who travel across 1940s America in a stolen station wagon, searching for fame, fortune and family. Bloom, a former therapist, knows people’s minds and their hearts. She writes with laser-like precision and dry wit, and her characters stay with you long after you close the covers. I can’t wait to read, Luck Us; and I’ll be sure to have a roll of scotch tape nearby.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

It might be a hard sell to describe Station Eleven as beach reading, but this post-apocalyptic novel about a troupe of Shakespearean actors travelling around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the wake of a cataclysmic flu pandemic has all the makings of a great summer read. Suspenseful and imaginative, Mandel masterfully weaves together four seemingly disparate narratives threads. She plays with time and raises interesting questions about our dependence on technology and all the advances that make us believe we’re civilized.

Ferran, by Coleman Andrews

My best friend, a chocolate maker and all-around-foodie, raved recently about Coleman Andrew’s, Ferran, the first-ever biography about renowned Spanish chef, Ferran Adria, owner of the restaurant, El Bulli. Ferran single-handedly changed the way we think about food (He’s the first chef to have experimented with foam). The book traces his rise through the culinary world, from his humble beginnings as a dishwasher to his coronation as one of the world’s the most important chefs. Ferran is great reading for anyone who loves to eat well or just wants to be inspired.

Where All Light Tends to Go, by David Joy

What’s summer without a gritty Southern tale of drugs, murder and family? I had the pleasure of hearing David Joy read from his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, at the South Carolina Book Festival, and I can tell you, he’s the real deal. Joy writes with the steady hand of an experienced, old school storyteller. His young narrator, Jacob McNeely, is a high school dropout who has accepted his destiny as the heir to a drug dynasty built on the meth sales, bribery, and the occasional murder. Jacob longs for his father’s respect and approval, but even more, he dreams of a bigger, brighter life for his high school sweetheart, Maggie, and is determined to help her escape from their ravaged Appalachian town. Joy’s characters are folks you don’t want to know, but can’t help but love in this unflinching but poetic tale of dreams deferred and lives wasted.

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Queen SugarA mother-daughter story of reinvention—about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

Why exactly her late father left her eight hundred acres of prime sugarcane land in Louisiana is as mysterious as it is generous. But for Charley Bordelon, it’s also an opportunity start over: to get away from the smog and sprawl of Los Angeles, and to grow a new life in the coffee-dark soil of the Gulf coast. Accompanied by her eleven-year-old daughter Micah, Charley arrives with high hopes and just in time for growing season.

Charley is as unfamiliar with Southern customs as she is with cane farming—which poses serious challenges both on and off the farm, especially when her farm manager leaves without warning. But, rolling up her sleeves and swallowing her pride, Charley finds the help of a colorful cast of characters—blood relatives and townspeople alike—who all become a family to her and Micah.

As the cane grows, Charley is tested by a brother who is quickly using up her patience, and it will take all of her heart to keep the sugar growing and her family intact. Queen Sugar is a story of Southern wisdom, unexpected love, and one family flourishing against all odds.

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Natalie BaszileNatalie has a B.A. in English from University California, Berkeley, a Masters in Afro-American Studies from UCLA, and earned an M.F.A from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. An early version of Queen Sugar won the Hurston Wright College Writer’s Award, the Sylvia Clare Brown fellowship, and was runner-up in the Faulkner Pirate’s Alley novel-in-progress competition. Natalie has had residencies at the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Hedgebrook. She is a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and lives in San Francisco with her family.

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Author to Author: Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft, Part Two

Today’s post by Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft | @SarahPekkanen and @KCraftWriter

Welcome back for the second part of our interview with Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft! If you missed part one, you can read it here. Today Kathryn shares a bit about her new novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, and how it was inspired by a tragic event in her own life.

Pekkanen Craft Collage

Sarah: The architecture of your book is astonishing. Although each chapter begins with a new hour (8 a.m.,9 a.m., etc), you hopscotch around place and time, pulling in flashbacks as well as the points of view of three very different women. How were you able to pull this off, and what was your biggest challenge in weaving together these disparate threads?

Kathryn: I didn’t do it well on the first draft, that’s for sure! So coming up with a plan was clearly the biggest challenge. But I didn’t want to compromise either structural aspect. The time signatures evoke the agonizing wait as these three women await word of their loved one’s suicide standoff as well as accentuate the moments these three women have to rise to the day’s challenges. The three points of view allowed a better representation of the impact when one man thinks his life has lost its worth. From personal experience I know that each of these women would have been asking the same thing—“How on earth did we come to this?”—so I needed the backstory.

To pull that off I needed to create, for reference, a master chronology of each of the three characters’ relevant life events. After that a whole lot of printed chapter shuffling ensued as I decided where it might be best for the reader to know each aspect of the backstory information. Once I made those insertions I put it back together and read it through a few more times, for continuity and to write transition material. It was complicated, but it’s amazing what you can pull off with a deadline.

Sarah: During the standoff, Ronnie thinks about her husband Jeff, their courtship and marriage, and the decline of their relationship. A quote from those reflections has stayed with me: “Had despair been entrenched in Jeff’s life even before they’d gotten together?” One of the issues raised by your book is how much responsibility we can bear for the happiness of others. Do you think any person, no matter how wonderful, can fill the hole in another?

Kathryn: That’s such a good question. I think it depends on whether the relationship continues to fill that void. Certainly many couples are able to stay married while fulfilling deep needs for one another. But given my experience, that line from the film Jerry Maguire, “You complete me,” is kind of frightening. If the one who completes you falls apart, how do you go on without healing that void on your own? And once it has healed, how can the other person ever fit back in?

The Far End of Happy exemplifies the stakes when you haven’t learned to love yourself before trying to love another. Ronnie and Jeff were both incomplete characters when they fell in love. One of them healed—and it scared the other to death.

Sarah: Jeff’s mother, Ronnie’s mother, and Ronnie all experience relationships that die in one way or another. Yet a sense of optimism imbues much of your novel, despite the unsettling topic, and all of the women exhibit formidable strength. Do you believe going through difficult times makes us stronger, or does it affect us in other ways? How did living through a similar situation to the one presented in your book change you?

Kathryn: Corporal McNichol’s dialogue carries my thoughts on this: I think life’s challenges reveal us. One very simplistic definition of mental health that’s always stayed with me is that mentally healthy people adapt; the mentally ill can’t. Jeff’s challenges were not extraordinary: many of us must work through the loss of a parent, changes at work, even divorce. But his inability to roll with the punches caused these everyday matters to take on life-or-death significance.

In real life, it wasn’t until my husband chose not to live out the day that I started giving myself credit for doing so. Each day that I got up and set about my business, no matter how frightened or tired I was, I thought, I am choosing life. The notion is so empowering that I’ve been sharing it with others through a #choosethisday Twitter campaign. Why do you choose this day? What makes you come alive? What will you do with these precious moments? I hope to get people thinking and sharing about this.

Sarah: Describe your process. Do you need to write in the same place at the same time every day, or do you go on retreats? Do you use a computer or pen and paper? And what can we look forward to from you next?

Kathryn: I am a morning writer. I can do in two early morning hours what it takes me five to do in the evening. Even more importantly, I am a “pre-social media” writer. If I start promoting blog posts or upcoming events first thing in the morning my thoughts start scurrying like puppies from a pen and containing them again seems a lost cause.

While I can write in a variety of places, my favorite is at the lakeside summer home in northern New York State that has been in our family for fifty years. Looking up from a problematic sentence and seeing the lake and its islands and all that sky stretched before me like God’s canvas—ah, nothing like it.

I tend to use pen and paper first, journaling in each character’s voice until I get a good sense of him or her, and then I switch to the computer. When problems arise, it’s back to pen and paper I go.

As for what comes next, we’ll see. This novel has completed a 17-year arc of healing in my life and I decided to see it through its launch before tackling something new. But ideas were brewing in the car today, so it’s time to pick up that pen…

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The Far End of HappyRonnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.

The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what’s best for her best for everyone?

Based on a real event from the author’s life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.

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Author to Author: Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft

Today’s post by Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft | @SarahPekkanen and @KCraftWriter

We’re thrilled to have Sarah Pekkanen and Kathryn Craft with us today in the first of a two part interview in which they discuss their new novels, THINGS YOU WON’T SAY and THE FAR END OF HAPPY. At the heart of each novel is a woman who finds her life upended when her husband picks up a gun. Both novels are compelling, provocative, and complex. We’re certain you’ll never look at those on the ragged edge of tragedy the same way again. Up first Kathryn Craft interviews Sarah Pekkanen about her sixth novel, THINGS YOU WON’T SAY. And we hope you’ll join us again on Thursday for part two.

Pekkanen Craft Collage

Kathryn: I understand you trace the genesis of Things You Won’t Say back to a shooting you covered as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun fifteen years ago, in which an on-duty female officer was badly injured in a crash that killed her mentor. Yet for your fiction you chose a male officer (Mike) to suffer from actions taken in the line of duty, and gave his stay-at-home wife (Jamie) the main point of view. Tell us about how you made these choices. Did you ever consider making the police officer a female?

Sarah: I chose Jamie to narrate because I’m always interested in the people just beyond the spotlight, since they seem to have the most interesting stories to tell. Whenever we see a politician standing up on stage, facing a sex scandal, I’m curious about not only the stony-faced wife beside him, but about the children and other family members who are invisible casualties. I was drawn to the story of a woman who is desperate to keep her family together and is fighting a grueling private battle amidst a very public crisis, which is why I knew I had to give Jamie voice.

Kathryn: In keeping with your title, the characters in your book have trouble articulating what’s on their minds and in their hearts. Tabitha the elephant was such a great character for extending this theme because of the way Lou had to intuit her behavior and look for signs. I have to wonder: was the choice of Jamie’s sister’s occupation as an elephant keeper a conscious metaphor for “the elephant in the room”? If not, why the choice of elephants—do you have a special love for them?

Sarah: One of the best things about writing books is that I get an excuse to explore subjects that make me curious. For my second novel, Skipping A Beat, for example, I wrote about a woman who sees scenes from her life reflected in the world’s great operas. I knew nothing about opera, but was able to dive into research, attending workshops for opera singers at the Kennedy Center and reading autobiographies of singers like Renee Fleming. Before writing Things You Won’t Say, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube video showing an elephant painting a picture of a flower by holding the brush in its trunk. I was captivated by the intelligence and sensitivity of this great creature, and wanted to learn more. I spent some time at my local zoo, and interviewed elephant keepers, and read as much as I could about the animals. As with many of my characters in the book, there is much more to elephants than meets the eye!

Kathryn: Some of our country’s greatest novelists, from Hemingway to Steinbeck to Tony Hillerman and Jennifer Weiner, were once journalists. You may recall that it was your coverage of the Columbine shootings that made me believe I could sustain tension in my 12-hour time frame for The Far End of Happy while delving into the backstories of my characters, a technique you used to amazing effect in your article. What were some of the benefits of journalistic training as you transitioned to writing fiction, and what were some of the challenges in making the leap?

Sarah: The most valuable trait I picked up as a journalist is discipline. I can’t imagine telling my gruff old city editor that I was feeling blocked and couldn’t get in my story about the city council meeting – he would’ve picked me up and tossed me out of the office! I learned to write under any conditions, too, since newsrooms are always crowded and noisy. That helped immensely, since as the mother of three boys, my house is always crowded and noisy! Sometimes I yearn to go away to a writer’s retreat, a place with an all-white room where the coffee is hot and the sound of the beach filters in through the windows… but I’m glad I don’t require a place like that to create my novels, otherwise I’d only write one every twenty years!

Kathryn: You are amassing quite an impressive body of work, Sarah! I’ve read two of your novels, which were very different in nature—The Best of Us, a college reunion story set at a luxury villa in Jamaica, and your forthcoming Things you Won’t Say, a more serious, ripped-from-the-headlines story. In this era of author branding, what do you think is the “Sarah Pekkanen” ingredient you bring to each of your books? What do your fans respond to the most?

Sarah: Thank you! All of my novels are stand alone, yet there’s a common thread linking them. They all center around the important relationships in a woman’s life. My first book was about sisterhood, the second about marriage, the third about new friendships, the fourth about old friendships, the fifth about sisters-in-law, and Things You Won’t Say focuses on the wife of a police officer, the officer’s ex-girlfriend (and mother of his oldest son) and the wife’s sister. Women have such rich, complex, sustaining relationships, and I love exploring the nuances. I always want to insert compelling plots into my novels, then let my female characters work their way through the crisis, often leaning on one another as they do so.

* * *

Things You Won't SayIn this timely and provocative novel, internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen takes us inside a family in crisis and a marriage on the brink after a tragic shooting.

How far would you go to save your family?

Every morning, as her husband Mike straps on his SIG Sauer and pulls on his heavy Magnum boots, Jamie Anderson tenses up. Then comes the call she has always dreaded: There’s been a shooting at police headquarters. Mike isn’t hurt, but his long-time partner is grievously injured. As weeks pass and her husband’s insomnia and disconnectedness mount, Jamie realizes he is an invisible casualty of the attack. Then the phone rings again. Another shooting—but this time Mike has pulled the trigger.

But the shooting does more than just alter Jamie’s world. It’s about to change everything for two other women. Christie Simmons, Mike’s flamboyant ex, sees the tragedy as an opportunity for a second chance with Mike. And Jamie’s younger sister, Lou, must face her own losses to help the big sister who raised her. As the press descends and public cries of police brutality swell, Jamie tries desperately to hold together her family, no matter what it takes.

In her characteristic exploration of true-to-life relationships, Sarah Pekkanen has written a complex, compelling, and openhearted novel—her best yet.

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Summer Reading Series: Laura Lane McNeal

Today’s post by author Laura Lane McNeal | @llmcneal

We’re delighted to welcome Laura Lane McNeal, author DOLLBABY, to the blog today. Laura has been kind enough to share her summer reading list with us, and, I have to admit, I’m reading several of these books myself this summer. And if you missed DOLLBABY when it released last year, no worries! It’s just come out in paperback.

Summer Reading Series

I love history and tend to lean toward historical fiction or history related books, but a good story is a good story, so in the summer I like to read books that just make me happy. There are so many good titles coming out this summer, and so many I’m trying to catch up on, so to narrow it down to four or five is tough. However, here’s my short list that includes multiple genres:

DEAD WAKE

By Erik Larson

I’m a huge fan of Erik Larson. And since my next book takes place in the 1920’s, I’m enjoying reading books from around that same era. Dead Wake is the story of the Lusitania disaster in 1915. The luxury ocean liner, the Lusitania, sets sail from New York on its way to Liverpool. Germany has declared war, and the waters around Britain are now in a war zone. Civilian ships are, per the war code, safe from attack. But Germany is determined to change the rules of the game. Historical and dramatic, his novels read like fiction.

THE FLYING CIRCUS

By Susan Crandall

Set in the rapidly changing world of the 1920’s, three people from very different backgrounds are set adrift by life-altering circumstances only to find themselves crisscrossing America’s heartland together, exploring the rapidly expanding roles of air racing, bootlegging and barnstorming. From the author of Whistling Past The Graveyard, Susan Crandall knows how to capture a time and place.

PRETTY BABY

By Mary Kubica

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. Heidi Wood invites the homeless young girl to take refuge in their home. What starts as an act of kindness soon forces Heidi to decide how far she will go to help a stranger. Mary Kubica is a master storyteller, weaving in storylines you won’t expect.

THE IDEA OF LOVE

By Patti Callahan Henry

This is Patti’s twelfth novel, and she is a master of the love story in the low country of South Carolina. The Idea of Love is the story of a widow from a coastal town in South Carolina with a secret, and a Los Angeles screenwriter who is out of ideas and looking for his next big hit, and will do anything, tell any sort of lie, to get it. When they connect in what seems like fate, their stories begin to unravel. Patti is great at taking the reader to this part of the country and immersing them in a heartbreaking tale of love.

THE SOUND OF GLASS

By Karen White

A woman inherits her dead husband’s estate in South Carolina, and along with it, the secrets of her husband’s unspoken past that forces her to face her own fears as she finds the courage to heal. A multi-layered mystery that will keep you up at night, Karen never ceases to amaze me with her story telling prowess.

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DollbabyA 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 Help, Dollbaby 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.

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Book Club Recipe: The Precious One

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

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Thank you, Marisa De los Santos. Thank you. I’m as big a fan as anyone of the vague, often times, dark ending to a good novel, but being the old-fashioned girl that I am, who still believes in fairy tale endings, I was so relieved to reach the end of The Precious One and find this ending. I am just feminist enough to appreciate the fact that it’s popular for heroines in modern women’s fiction stories to save themselves from their own conflicts, and the beautiful characters in this novel do, but with the help of some pretty shiny knights standing beside them. So refreshing.

I had planned to make my own version of the ubiquitous curried chicken salad that De los Santos included in the book, to go along with it, because it made me laugh that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to shop at the same corner specialty food store, and some tried to pass the dishes off as their own, not realizing that the people they served them to would know they hadn’t because they were commonly served on their own dining room tables. I loved that. I just really did. But then lemon ricotta cookies were mentioned at a key point in Taisy and Willow’s story and I decided I just had to have them…in my post and in my belly. When I reached the end, I was so glad that I did because I found it more poignant to turn those cookies into cakes.

I used a heart-shaped silicone muffin pan to make my cakes, but a regular cupcake pan or mini bundt pan would also work well. The buttercream decorations just gave them a little more color and interest. Pre-made royal icing flowers that are sold with cake decorating supplies would be a simple, fun substitute to piped accents. It should be noted that the poured fondant takes several hours to harden over the moist cakes, so they should be made a day or two in advance.

Lemon Ricotta Cakes

Ingredients:

Cake

1/2 cup salted butter

2 c. raw sugar

12 oz. ricotta cheese

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

The juice and zest of 2 medium lemons

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. pink Himalayan salt

Lemon Poured Fondant

1/2 c. corn syrup

8 T melted butter

2 tsp. pure lemon extract

8 c. confectioner’s sugar

4 drops yellow food color

4 T water

Buttercream Frosting (optional)

1/4 c. butter

2 c. confectioner’s sugar

Pinch of salt

2 T whole milk or water, more or less as needed

Food color

Method:

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and flour pans, unless using silicone.

Make the cakes by first creaming the butter with a mixer. Add the sugar and cream together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Whip in the ricotta.

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Spoon into pan to fill sections 2/3 full.

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Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool ten minutes in pan resting on a cooling rack. Invert to rack and cool completely.

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To make the poured fondant, combine the melted butter with the corn syrup. Stir in the color, flavor, and confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the water until the mixture is smooth.

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When the cakes are cool, place them on a wire rack and puddle the fondant over each and gently coax it to run down the sides to coat the.

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Allow the cakes to dry overnight before adding buttercream decorations.

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Yield: 24 cupcake sized cakes

 

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Summer Reading Series: Pam Jenoff

Today’s post by Pam Jenoff | @PamJenoff

We’re delighted to welcome Pan Jenoff to the blog today. She is a generous, prolific, gifted storyteller and we’ve long admired her work. Her new novel, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, releases in a few weeks and now would be the perfect time to preorder your copy! But until then, she’s graciously shared the novels she’ll be reading this summer. Enjoy!

Summer Reading Series

For me, answering the question, “What’s in your beach bag?” is something of a cheat – I haven’t read on the beach in six years because I’m chasing three small children! But in the ten minutes each night before I close my eyes, I will pretend I’m on the beach and read these:

My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb.  Everything Cathy writes is emotionally riveting.  This story, of a lifelong friendship between two women and the haunting truth one discovers when she goes search for the other in Scotland, about the other will be no different.  Pack some tissues in that beach bag!

The Sound of Glass by Karen White.  Not just because Karen is a gifted and remarkable writer, or because I have adored every one of her books.  I’ve heard that this book, a tale of a woman returning to her husband’s ancestral South Carolina home and the mysteries it holds from the past, is her best yet.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams. Williams’ latest features a young woman in 1960’s Cape Cod on the brink of a perfect life until unwelcome visitors and dark secrets threaten to unravel it. Kirkus Reviews called in “Kennedy-esque.” I’m sold!

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.  These authors are new to me.  But I’ve been hearing raves everywhere for this story of a woman whose life starts changing to reflect her Facebook status.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica.  This is sort of a cheat because I have already read it.  But the story of a woman who befriends a teenager with a baby and becomes ensnared in a web of lies is so good I will be reading it again.  Warning: do not read it when you are supposed to be chasing the kids or doing something else because you will be completely captivated too.

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL.  Her latest, THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, will be released on July 28.

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The Last Summer at Chelsea BeachSummer 1941 

Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

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Summer Reading Series: Jane Green

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Jane Green | @JaneGreen

We’re delighted to have the brilliant, generous, and charming Jane Green with us today sharing the books that are in her beach bag this summer. And in addition to sharing her most anticipated books, she is also giving away a copy of her new novel, SUMMER SECRETS, and a beach tote packed with summer essentials. (See the photo and entry form below). Welcome, and thank you, Jane! As always your taste is impeccable.

Summer Reading Series

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave | She’s not only one of my favorite writers, but one of my favorite people, and this is first on my list.

Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg | The Middlesteins was a wonderful, poignant book, and I can’t wait to dive into this.

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy | I was lucky enough to read this as an advance copy, and it had me crying with laughter in a way I hadn’t since Bridget Jones’s Diary. I plan to re-read it on the beach.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume | What can I say, who won’t be reading this adult novel from the woman we all fell in love with as teenagers.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin | Another I was lucky enough to read early, and another I plan to revisit, savoring the stories of hoity toity women on the Upper East Side of New York.

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Jane has very graciously offered to give this gorgeous beach bag stuffed with some of her favorite items–and of a copy of SUMMER SECRETS–to one lucky winner today! See the entry form below for details.

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Summer SecretsWhen a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It’s a mistake for which she can’t forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it’s time to grow up. But she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green’s keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart, Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms.

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Author to Author: Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews

Today’s guests are New York Times bestselling authors Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews | @PCalHenry and @MKayAndrews

We’re delighted to visit with Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Kay Andrews today. Their novels, THE IDEA OF LOVE and BEACH TOWN both center around small Southern towns and people who show up with movies on their mind. So we’ve brought them together to discuss this charming coincidence as well as the writing life. We hope you enjoy!

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Patti Callahan Henry: We met when you were writing mysteries, and I hadn’t yet published. I asked you to meet me for lunch and you did. It was the beginning of not only a beautiful friendship, but it was also the graciousness of one author being willing to mentor another unpublished author. Do you believe that these author to author friendships are vital to our writing lives?

Mary Kay Andrews: I believe in kindness. And karma. So many other writers (almost all of them women) helped me when I was starting my career in fiction, I feel sure I wouldn’t have the career I have today without their help. And it’s a two-way street. I’ve gotten back much more in friendship than I’ve given. Writing is such solitary work, it’s vital to have friendships with others who are walking our same, strange path. I can make a quick call, text, or email to a writer pal, asking for help in figuring out how to get away with murder, (fictionally) and instead of calling the cops, they’ll text me back their brilliant solution to my thorny plotting problem.

Mary Kay Andrews:

I know you’ve always been fascinated with Greek mythology and legends. How does this play into the stories you tell in your fiction?

Patti Callahan Henry: Story built on story. That’s how our world and our lives have been formed. If these myths play into my stories, it is only subconsciously, which I’m sure does happen. I have never developed or constructed a story around a known myth, although I have included them inside the story itself. I hope that having read and loved mythology has enriched my storytelling.

Patti Callahan Henry: In this new novel we both wrote (fictionally) a little bit about the movie industry. We didn’t know we were both doing this until the rough drafts were done. Tell me what inspired your story and why you tapped into ‘location scouting’ as a subject.

Mary Kay Andrews: I was looking around for a fascinating occupation for my protagonist, and the idea of having Greer Hennessy, my heroine, be a film location scout seemed like a good idea. It helped that tons of television and movie projects are shot in and around Atlanta every year, and that my daughter Katie handles film permitting for the Atlanta municipality where she works, so I had easy access to scouts for research.

Mary Kay Andrews: In your new novel THE IDEA OF LOVE, your protagonist seems to be a totally sympathetic character—newly widowed and deeply in love with her late husband. Or is she? Where did you get the idea for Ella?

Patti Callahan Henry: Ella arrived on the scene for Blake. He was there trying to steal a good love story and there she was with the perfect one. Originally, that was her only purpose—to give Blake a story but as I wrote her and played with the storyline, I realized that she was having a lot more fun making up her life than telling the truth.

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The Idea of LoveAs we like to say in the south, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love–until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

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Patti Callahan Henry: Your titles are some of my very favorite of all time. They always capture the storyline in a quick, witty burst. Do you come up with these titles before, during or after writing the books?

Mary Kay Andrews: I always like to have the title nailed down before I get too deeply into plotting a book. As a former journalist, it helps me keep my mind on track with the story. Usually I come up with my own titles, although I must admit this time around, my brilliant editor at St. Martins’ Press, Jennifer Enderlin, came up with BEACH TOWN.

Mary Kay Andrews: Movies—we both love ‘em. What’s your favorite and why? Is there any one movie that captures the essence of what you try to reveal in your books?

Patti Callahan Henry: Wow. I could never choose just one movie. But if we narrow it down to Romantic Comedies (which is what The Idea of Love’s character, Blake Hunter, writes) then I can with absolute certainty say When Harry Met Sally. It’s the perfect love story (to me). Friends fall in love, fall apart, fall back together. I do think I have tried to write some of that, but of course I’ve written about many, many other things.

Patti Callahan Henry: You have written a book a year for nearly 24 years. Yet, your stories remain fresh, hilarious and chock full of deeper themes about love, friendship and families. How do you do it? How do you keep the well full and your stories alive?”

Mary Kay Andrews: Desperation! I can’t honestly say I always love the writing process, but I will say I always love having written. I think the way to keep writing and keep creativity alive is to be fully engaged in life, and to stay curious. I’m always studying my craft, trying to figure out how to get better at my job—which is coming up with a satisfying story my readers will love.

Mary Kay Andrews: In THE IDEA OF LOVE, Hank is a screenwriter with crippling writer’s block. Have you ever suffered from the dreaded WB? How did you counter it?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Oh, yes of course I’ve felt like there are times that I can’t write, that I don’t feel the words and stories coming as easily as other times. But I’ve never been crippled by it (hoping I never am). I’ve been able to write, often badly, to push through the block or slow-flow of a bad spell of creativity. In those times, I’ve spent more time reading than writing. More time walking or being in nature than at the computer. Eventually, so far, the flow starts again if I don’t give up on it.

Patti Callahan Henry: You often talk about your ‘junking’ expeditions, and we both love the Savannah area. Both of these things have found their way into your novels. How often do you put your real life into your stories?”

Mary Kay Andrews: BEACH TOWN doesn’t have a lot of junking per se, but Greer’s love interest in the book has a great loft apartment full of treasures he’s recovered from his surroundings—including a vintage stove that’s a lot like a vintage 1950s Wedgewood stove I bought off Craigslist for $90, and re-sold for more than ten times that at my antique booth on Tybee Island. I never know if I write so I can junk, or junk so I can write. I just know I can’t live without writing—or junking.

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Beach TownGreer Hennessy needs palm trees.

As a movie location scout, picture-perfect is the name of the game. But her last project literally went up in flames, and her career is on the verge of flaming out. Greer has been given one more chance, if she can find the perfect undiscovered beach hideaway for a big-budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town called Cypress Key. There’s one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino-which will be perfect for the film’s explosive climax.

There’s just one problem. Eben Thibadeaux, the town mayor, completely objects to Greer’s plan. A lifelong resident of Cypress Key, Eben wants the town to be revitalized, not commercialized. After a toxic paper plant closed, the bay has only recently been reborn, and Eb has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. But Greer has a way of making things happen, regardless of obstacles. And Greer and Eb are way too attracted to each other for either of them to see reason.

Between an ambitious director and his entourage-including a spoiled “It Boy” lead actor-who parachute into town, a conniving local ex-socialite, and a cast of local fangirls and opportunists who catch the movie bug, nothing is going to be the same in Cypress Key. Now Greer is forced to make some hard choices: about the people and the town she’s come to care about, and about her own life. True love is only for the movies, right? Can Greer find a way to be the heroine in her own life story? Told with inimitable heart and humor, Mary Kay Andrews’ Beach Town is the perfect summer destination.

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Mary Kay Andrews: You write a book a year and have a full family life. How do you re-fill the creative well?

Patti Callahan Henry:

Living a full life is the best thing I know to fill the creative well. I don’t do anything in particular for the well, but I try to follow my interests and enjoy my family and friends. Balance is important and yet I know I fail at it all the time. Then I try again. Laughter, too. That’s the best well-filler of all.

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