A Major Announcement: Introducing Triangle Reads!

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


Imagine this: you gather your book club or your favorite group of friends and caravan to Raleigh, North Carolina for a long a weekend. While there you eat, drink, and make merry. Then on Sunday morning, after sleeping in, you participate in a moveable feast with two dozen of the brightest, most talented, acclaimed authors publishing has to offer. For the rest of the day you sit in on discussions about memoir, children’s books, southern fiction, and historical mysteries (among others). Then, once your head is positively swimming with Story, you cap off the day with Modern Mrs. Darcy in conversation with Elin Hilderbrand, followed by cocktails with the entire She Reads team and the amazing authors you’ve spent the day with.

If, like us, that sounds like an ideal way to spend a weekend in early fall, you don’t have to imagine it any longer. Because She Reads has partnered with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance to create TRIANGLE READS, a first of its kind live readers event on September 20th.

You’ll be hearing much more about this event in the coming weeks but for today, we highly encourage you  to visit TRIANGLE READS, send the link to your book-loving friends, and grab your tickets. Because space is limited and they won’t last long.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Jan Ellison

Today’s post by author Jan Ellison | @JanEllison

Jan Ellison’s debut novel, A SMALL INDISCRETION, has received a number of accolades since it was published in January. For good reason we might add. And it was actually this post that inspired our entire summer reading series. We were so fascinated by the idea of an author choosing a handful of books on a specific theme and immersing herself in them over the summer that we decided to invite others to do the same. And now that our series is almost over (we only have two more contributions after today) we decided it was time for you to meet Jan and her novel.

Summer Reading Series

Imagine how much of life’s domestic disharmony would be silenced if every man could slip into a woman’s skin for a day, and every woman into a man’s. My summer reading list is intended to be the next best thing — novels written by male writers who expose the tender interior of their characters’ hearts as they struggle to live with those they love.

Bill Roorbach’s The Remedy for Love

The unlikely love story of two strangers stranded in a cabin in Maine in the middle of an epic snow storm.

I saw Bill speak at a conference this spring, and if his novels are anything like he is, I am in for a poignant, hilarious ride. What woman can resist a male protagonist who writes of the fiancee he fears he’s lost: “Something she didn’t understand about young men in love: her body that morning as she talked on the phone was easily the most beautiful vista he had ever encountered.”

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road

A traditional 1950’s couple trade their love of each other for dreams of greatness.

This is one I’ve already read, and look forward to re-reading. I remember it as a searing, heartbreaking story that masterfully illuminates the way our loved ones can bring out our very worst selves.

Frank Wheeler intends to comfort his wife after she has performed in a disastrous play: “What he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say ‘Listen: you were wonderful.’ But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him that she didn’t want to be touched . . . and that was when it occurred to him that ‘You were wonderful’ might be exactly the wrong thing to say . . . ‘Well,’ he said instead. ‘I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?'”

Chartles Baxter’s The Feast of Love

This re-conceived Mid-Summer Night’s Dream is a series of rule-bending vignettes that take us on a sexy, literary romp through a land where ordinary people love in extraordinary ways.

I heard Charles Baxter read from this book years ago, and he later told me it was his favorite of his books (though he’s written quite a few since.) Baxter doesn’t back down from even the most precarious of human interactions: A newly married couple, honeymooning in Michigan, discovers that “you can have good sex on your honeymoon and still suspect that there’s something fishy going on.”

Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This

Named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, this is the harrowing story of a family trying to rebuild after a kidnapped child is returned.

After just a few pages, I was struck by this novel’s rare combination of fine sentences, fully realized characters, and a driving plot. “Laura paced across the room with her hands clasped in front of her . . . Were she a stranger, Eric would’ve been struck with longing as he watched her languid movements. His wife — it still shocked him — was beautiful.”

* * *

Jan EllisonJan Ellison is a mother of four and a novelist, essayist and short-story writer. Her first book, A Small Indiscretion (Random House 2015) is a literary suspense novel that was both an Oprah Editor’s Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Book Club Pick. Jan’s essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere, and she received an O. Henry Prize for her first short story to appear in print.

Jan has degrees from Stanford and San Francisco State University, where she earned her MFA. She had a brief career in her twenties at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write. She was raised in Los Angeles and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their children.

Follow Jan on Facebook and Twitter

* * *

A Small IndiscretionAt nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes.

read more

Summer Reading Series: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Today’s post by Taylor Jenkins Reid | @tjenkinsreid

I (Ariel) read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s debut novel, FOREVER INTERRUPTED, two years ago. And I can’t say this about a lot of books–I read so many after all–but I distinctly remember it and my heart still clenches when I do. Especially Ben going out for cereal (if you’ve read the novel you’ll understand why that small detail is cemented in my emotional memory). There’s just something about the way Taylor tells a story, it’s so…compelling. Needless to say, we were over-the-moon delighted when she agreed to be part of our summer reading series. So without further ado, here she is to tell you what she’s reading this summer. And while you’re out grabbing all of these amazing books, make sure to pick up a copy of her new novel, MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE (which I can’t wait to read myself).

Summer Reading Series

This summer feels like an embarrassment of riches for my Kindle. So many big names with new material – Jennifer Weiner, Jen Lancaster, Judy Blume, even Harper Lee! Here are some of the books that I will be reading by the pool:

YOU by Caroline Kepnes

An uncomfortable, brutal, brilliant, and absolutely un-putdownable insight into the brain of a stalker. I read You last fall and I will be re-reading it this summer as I anxiously await the sequel, Hidden Bodies, which will be out this September. If you like smart, raw thrillers, I highly recommend you get to know Caroline Kepnes.

TINY LITTLE THING by Beatriz Williams

I am in love with everything Beatriz Williams writes, so it’s no surprise that her newest is high on my To Be Read pile. A blue-blooded family with secrets in 1960’s Cape Cod? Sign me up. I’ll be devouring it as soon it comes out at the end of June.

THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke are great writers who know how to have fun with their characters and create magical-yet-believable situations. Their new book deals with a called-off wedding, time travel, and Facebook. I can’t wait!

THINGS YOU WON’T SAY by Sarah Pekkanen

Sarah Pekkanen’s new novel about a cop shooting and the lives of the women affected sounds utterly absorbing and timely. Her past work has shown that she knows how to craft memorable characters in complex, moving situations. The fact that this has been called her best yet just makes me that much more excited to dig in.


A mysterious disappearance, family secrets, and a lakeside community where not all is as it appears. I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of The Secrets of Lake Road last year, and this August, when it’s finally released, seems like the perfect time to revisit it.

* * *

Maybe In Another LifeFrom the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.


read more

The Best Of Summer Suspense

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

If you love a good page-turner, then these new releases might be just the thing to read during the last days of summer. So grab a copy and find a nice spot beside the pool.

Those GirlsTHOSE GIRLS by Chevy Stevens

Life 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.

* * *

The Wrong ManTHE WRONG MAN by Kate White

New York Times bestselling author of Eyes on You and The Sixes delivers a compelling thriller of mistaken identity and psychological suspense about an accomplished career woman who thinks she’s met the man of her dreams—but instead he turns out to be her worst nightmare.

Bold and adventurous in her work as one of Manhattan’s hottest interior decorators, Kit Finn couldn’t be tamer in her personal life. So, while on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. Flirting with Matt Healy—the rugged stranger she literally bumps into at her hotel—is one thing. Going back to his room after their date is another.

Instead, Matt offers to cook her dinner when they’re both back in the city. But when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready for the date of a lifetime, who is the man who opens the door?

Kit’s usually so good at reading people. How could she have been taken in by the deceptions of a con man? And why has he targeted her? Piece by piece, Kit realizes that this treachery goes a lot deeper, and gets a lot deadlier. Now the only way out is to expose the vicious puppet master who’s turned her life upside-down.

Adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn, The Wrong Man will leave readers guessing until the final page.

* * *

The UninvitedTHE UNINVITED by Cat Winters

From the award-winning author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes a stunning new novel—a masterfully crafted story of love, loss, and second chances. Set during the fear and panic of the Great Influenza of 1918, The Uninvited is part gothic ghost-story, part psychological thriller, perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains.  For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.

Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.

The Uninvited is an atmospheric, haunting, and utterly compelling novel.

* * *

The Night SisterTHE NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon

The latest novel from New York Times best-selling author Jennifer McMahon is an atmospheric, gripping, and suspenseful tale that probes the bond between sisters and the peril of keeping secrets.

Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.
Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.

* * *

The BarterTHE BARTER by Siobhan Adcock

“Eerie and atmospheric, this psychological thriller will twist its way into readers’ psyches.” —Booklist 

In today’s “lean in” era, debut novelist Siobhan Adcock casts the issue of whether women can ever “have it all” into a superbly written novel that will have readers everywhere talking. Bridget has given up her career to raise her daughter, but now a terrifying presence has entered their Texas home—and only Bridget can feel it. In 1902, motherhood spurs Rebecca to turn her back on her husband, despite her own misgivings.

As Adcock crosscuts these two women’s stories with mounting tension, each arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making.

* * *

What Has Become of You

WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOU by Jan Elizabeth Watson

What Has Become of You asks: What if a teacher’s most promising pupil is also her most dangerous?

Aspiring writer Vera Lundy hasn’t entirely overcome her own adolescence when she agrees to teach at a tiny private school. A recent murder has already put their small New England town on edge when Vera bonds with a student who’s eerily reminiscent of her younger self. Amid a growing sense of menace, Vera finds herself in the vortex of danger—and suspicion.

read more

Book Trailer Of The Day: In A Dark, Dark Wood

There has been much discussion about whether or not book trailers work. Do readers like them? Are they effective? Do they sell books? While I can’t answer those questions for anyone else, I can tell you what I think: YES. On all counts. And I found his one so compelling that I’ll be buying a copy of Ruth Ware’s novel, IN A DARK, DARK WOOD the moment I can get to my  local indie bookstore (Parnassus Books, which I love wholeheartedly).

*Email readers can click here to watch the video.

* * *

In A Dark, Dark WoodWhat should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.

read more

Author to Author: Mary Kubica and Holly Brown, Part 2

Today’s post by authors Mary Kubica and Holly Brown | @MaryKubica

We’re so happy to be back with part two of our interview between Mary Kubica and Holly Brown. If you missed part one you can read it here. Regardless, make sure you add both novels to your summer reading list. We found the similarities in these novels compelling and we’re certain you will too.

Kubica Brown Collage

Mary: I love reading stories about mothers and motherhood, and this is certainly one of them: the tale of a man and wife unable to have their own children, who decide to bring a baby into their life through adoption. Adrienne craves motherhood. She wants it more than anything else in the world, to the point that her decisions are sometimes rash, and her judgment askew. How did being a mother yourself help you create the character of Adrienne? Did you relate personally to one of the women more than the other: Adrienne or Leah?

Holly: I didn’t always want to have a child, but once that desire kicked in, it was voracious and consuming. I was 35 at the time, and suddenly bombarded by messages about my dwindling fertility. So I tried to draw on what it feels like to want something so badly and to be afraid it’ll never be yours. Then I transposed that to a woman with a rather unique moral compass, and voila, I had Adrienne. I don’t personally relate much to either Adrienne or Leah, but I loved creating their psychologies and motivations.

Mary: Similarly, I’ve read that you’re a marriage and family therapist, and can’t help but wonder what impact, if any, this has on your novels. The characters in A NECESSARY END are certainly not without fault, and they each come with heavy baggage, from the death of parents and siblings, to feelings of abandonment and abuse. Not to imply that your characters are based on patients, but I’m curious as to whether you find inspiration for your novels through your role as a therapist?

Holly: As a therapist, I see people at their best and their worst. They’re at their most vulnerable, and that inspires a lot of empathy, even if they’re behaving badly. So I try to bring that kind of empathy to my novels. I feel for these characters. Because even as they behave badly, I can see the vulnerability underneath.

Mary: I truly enjoyed the distinctive voices in A NECESSARY END – from the serious, pensive moments about motherhood and infertility, to these really smart and hysterical quips (one of my personal favorites: “In a couple of weeks, she’s going to eject a person out of her body.”). It’s terrific and certainly appeals to every one of the reader’s emotions. Is there a style of writing you prefer to write: the serious, heartfelt streams of consciousness, or those witty, sarcastic remarks that had me laughing out loud from time to time? (as a reader, I enjoyed them both immensely!)

Holly: I’m so glad you enjoyed both aspects of the writing! Adrienne really amused me as I wrote her, particularly her initial level of hubris (she gets somewhat humbled throughout the novel.) So I’d say that inhabiting Adrienne when she’s her sassiest was some of my favorite writing, ever.

Mary: Nearly all of these characters are master manipulators seeking a self-serving end result. Was it hard to create these types of personas, while still holding the reader under their spell (which you do brilliantly)?

Holly: I hold a mental health view of manipulation: It’s when people don’t see any direct way to meet their needs and have to resort to the indirect. They might not even know they’re doing it, it’s so underground in their subconscious. My characters just didn’t see any other way to get what they felt they needed. By believing that myself, I sought to make them understandable to the reader (and if not understandable, then compelling nonetheless.)

Mary: About three-fourths of the way through the novel you reveal a huge bombshell of a story-within-the-story, which left me completely stunned. I never saw it coming. You lay the groundwork for this reveal masterfully, and I’m wondering as an author, what is your writing style: do you outline abundantly, or make it up as you go?

Holly: I’m somewhere in between. I have an overall sense of the arc and the plot points, and then I have to figure out chapter by chapter how to get there. My trick is to never look at a blank page. I always make notes at least a few chapters out.

Mary: Without giving too much away, A NECESSARY END certainly has one of those GONE GIRL-type endings that will both shock and appall. Did you know all along how this story would end or did it come as a surprise to even you?

Holly: I knew they were hurtling toward disaster the whole time, but I probably realized about halfway through what the precise nature of that disaster would be. It came to me in a Eureka moment, and I just felt it was intuitively right for this trio.

Mary: What’s next for your writing career? Are you working on another novel? (please say yes!)

Holly: I’m always working on another novel, so yes! (This is my cliffhanger ending.)

* * *

A Necessary EndHow far would you go to get what you wanted? The author of Don’t Try to Find Me returns with a taut, riveting novel of psychological suspense—a domestic drama full of secrets and twists—about a woman determined to have a child, her ambivalent husband, and a pregnant teenager with a secret agenda of her own.

“I know now that there was no other way things could have turned out. Tragedies are inevitable, just like the great love stories, like us.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Adrienne is desperate to be a mother. And this time, nothing is going to get in her way.

Sure, her husband, Gabe, is ambivalent about fatherhood. But she knows that once he holds their baby, he’ll come around. He’s just feeling a little threatened, that’s all. Because once upon a time, it was Gabe that Adrienne wanted more than anything; she was willing to do anything. . . . But that was half a lifetime ago. She’s a different person now, and so is Gabe. There are lines she wouldn’t cross, not without extreme provocation.

And sure, she was bitten once before by another birth mother—clear to the bone—and for most people, it’s once bitten, twice shy. But Adrienne isn’t exactly the retiring type.

At nineteen, Leah bears a remarkable resemblance to the young woman Adrienne once was. Which is why Adrienne knows the baby Leah is carrying is meant to be hers. But Leah’s got ideas of her own: Her baby’s going to get a life in California; why shouldn’t she? All she wants is to live in Adrienne’s house for a year after the baby’s born, and get a fresh start.

It seems like a small price for Adrienne to pay to get their baby. And with Gabe suddenly on board, what could possibly go wrong?

read more

Author to Author: Mary Kubica and Holly Brown

Today’s post by authors Mary Kubica and Holly Brown | @MaryKubica

We’re delighted to welcome Mary Kubica and Holly Brown to the blog today as part of our “Author to Author” series. Both have gripping new novels out that center around teenage mothers and the families pulled into sway. Mary and Holly have each written domestic dramas that grab you by the throat. So it made perfect sense to have them sit down together and compare notes. Up first Holly Brown interviews Mary Kubica about her second novel, PRETTY BABY.

Kubica Brown Collage

HOLLY: Hi, Mary. Congratulations on your second novel! It is a true page-turner and has some of my favorite elements: delusions, denial, and unreliable narrators. What inspired you?

MARY: Thanks so much, Holly. I’m absolutely thrilled to get the chance to chat with you and to read A NECESSARY END. I truly loved and devoured your novel. It’s such a terrific book, and I’m certain it will be a huge success. Congratulations to you!

The inspiration for PRETTY BABY was really one of necessity, strange as that may sound. I owed my editor a proposal for my second novel, and I had to dig deep to come up with a unique and compelling storyline. After a few unsuccessful ideas and my increasing frustration, out of nowhere it came to me: this image of a homeless teenage girl waiting beside the Chicago L with a baby. I didn’t know what her story would be, but I knew for certain she was the focal point of PRETTY BABY. At once I sat down and crafted what’s now the opening chapter of the novel. From there, the rest of the characters and plotlines came slowly together and I was elated with the way it all worked out. 

HOLLY: In Heidi and Chris’ marriage, they both seem to believe in their defined roles: Heidi is the good person, the concerned citizen, while Chris is about making money; even he seems to think he’s selfish. Was this a false dichotomy in their marriage, in any marriage?

MARY: Heidi and Chris are very different people. She is focused on helping those in need, while Chris obsesses with money: he wants all the money for himself. That said, they are fundamentally good people. They’re also quite complex characters, and their purposes and aspirations change as the novel progresses and they’re faced with difficulties in their life and marriage. I think that most people are generally this way, and that we are more multi-dimensional than we may first lead others to believe.

HOLLY: Heidi thought she had come to terms with having only one child, but when she comes face to face with Willow and baby Ruby, that’s called into question. What does she see in Willow and Ruby? How does it fuel obsession?

MARY: Without giving too much away, Willow and Ruby need Heidi in a way that her own daughter no longer needs her. Heidi is a wonderful mother, who goes over and beyond to make the best decisions for her family. She researches motherhood and her daughter’s emerging adolescence; she worries about the stages of life her Zoe is going through. That said, twelve-year-old Zoe doesn’t want a thing to do with Heidi, and so when suddenly there is a helpless teenage girl and her baby living in Heidi’s home, she becomes quite consumed with their daily care. Here are two people who need Heidi to provide food, clothing, shelter and, in time, emotional support, and this changes Heidi’s life on a dime.

HOLLY: Willow seems both older and younger than sixteen. Do you think that’s the abuse, or her temperament/personality, or an interaction of the two? How did you begin to create the character of Willow?

MARY: I loved creating the character of Willow. She is one who has stuck with me for a long time after finishing the novel. Initially, I set out to make PRETTY BABY solely Heidi and her husband, Chris’s story, but then knew Willow needed a chance to tell her own side of the tale. Willow has a dark past, cycling between loss and abuse, which has left her worse-for-the-wear, so to speak. She doesn’t put her trust in many people, and she has seen much more than any sixteen-year-old child should see. This absolutely makes Willow seem older than her age, and yet there’s a naivety to her that is slowly revealed as we get to know her past: because of her upbringing, Willow lacks much real life experience and has a callowness that is due to the way she was raised and the people in her life.

HOLLY: Because of her childhood experiences, Willow initially appears to see the world as good people and bad people, the abusers and the saviors, but she begins to question whether it’s really so bifurcated. And you’ve created fairly ambiguous characters (for example, without giving too much away, a number of the characters can rationalize that they’re doing something good when others could perceive their actions in a different light.) What’s your take on good, evil, and the in-between?

MARY: Personally, I feel that most people walk a line somewhere in between good and evil. No matter how good we are, we all make bad choices from time to time, or are tempted to do something wrong. That said, the vast majority of people could certainly be classified as good, though it would take a dogged persona to never give in to those cravings and desires at times. Willow does see the world as good and bad with no in-between, and this is absolutely as a result of the way she was raised. It takes some time for her to see that world isn’t quite as simple as that. Good people make bad choices sometimes, and those that are thought of as bad, can also do good things. This is a lesson Willow must learn in PRETTY BABY.  

HOLLY: Money is an implicit theme in the book: the haves and the have nots, the homeless and the privileged. Chris is admittedly very driven by money, which allows Heidi the luxury of not thinking about it much while reaping the benefits. Is money the root of evil, is it power, or is it something else, in the context of this novel?

MARY: In PRETTY BABY, I’d have to say that power is more the root of evil than money. There is certainly a distinction in this novel between the haves and the have-nots, but the most evil of all comes not from Heidi or Chris, but from those who use their authority and the power of manipulation to bring harm to others.

Thank you so much for these intriguing questions, Holly, and to the ladies of She Reads for bringing Holly and me together for this chat! I’ve loved every minute of it.

* * *

Pretty BabyA chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies in this stunning new psychological thriller from national bestselling author Mary Kubica 

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

read more

Book Trailer of the Day

If you’ve not yet heard of Erika Swyler’s debut novel, THE BOOK OF SPECULATION, you might just be alone. It has been the “it” book this summer and we have no doubt it will hold that title into the fall. And when we ran across this clever book trailer for the novel we couldn’t help but share.

The Book of SpeculationSimon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

read more

Author to Author: The Storms Edition, Part Two

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

Welcome back to part two of our “storms” interview series with Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Up today, Tiffany interviews Vanessa about her novel UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to add both novels to your “to read” list.

Storms Collage

Vanessa says: I didn’t know what to expect from this exercise, but it’s been so interesting and enjoyable. Tiffany’s book and mine share so many elements, it’s spooky, although they’re different genres and time periods. It’s been fascinating to talk to another author about choices and background. Her questions made me think about things in new ways and reading her book gave me new insights into my own. What a great format!

Tiffany: Your novel takes place during a terrible hurricane in Florida in 1935 and it’s based on an actual event. Racial injustice and class divisions are magnified as the storm hits. I’d like to imagine things would be different today, but I couldn’t help but see parallels to the situation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina some 70 years later. Was that something you thought about while you were writing this book?

Vanessa: One of the attractions for me was the relevance of the ‘historical’ events of 1935 to today. Even with all the advances in hurricane tracking technology, a storm like Katrina can still pound the life out of one of our major cities. It’s still the case that survival depends as much on human decision-making as technology. Complacency is deadly in these situations, but the storms behave erratically and evacuations are difficult and costly. Equally, we’d like to think that there has been progress in the rehabilitation of veterans, and there has. Despite this, every day in America approximately 22 former service personnel commit suicide. And when we come to look at improvements in race relations, recent events show how much progress is still to be made. So although I was telling a story from 80 years ago, in many ways it felt very current.

Tiffany: Your book has a large cast of characters, which you manage beautifully. I grew to love many of the characters in your story—Missy the nanny, Henry the war hero, and Doc the traumatized medic, for sure—and I grew to hate a few, as well. But more than just knowing the individual characters, I learned the character of Heron Key, the fictional town where the story takes place. Did you set out to write a novel with a strong sense of place or was it a function of this particular story?

Vanessa: I wouldn’t say that I set out with that intention. I never imagined that I would write a novel set in Florida. My two books of women’s fiction were set in Britain! But once I started writing, it was like finding a huge time capsule in a dusty attic. All my childhood memories came pouring out, straight from my brain to the page, all the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of Florida. The book turned into a kind of love letter to my home state, much to my surprise. I haven’t lived there for 35 years, but I guess it’s still home, in some ways. But I really believe that I could not have written the book without the perspective and clarity gained from living far away all these years.

Tiffany: In addition to the hurricane, your characters encounter all kinds of violence. A terrifying incident with an alligator early in the book lets us know this is a dangerous place. Yet the worst violence comes at the hands of people. It seems to me the difference between violence in nature and violence in men is that men act with motivation. Nature just is. I found myself thinking about the motivations of the characters who set violent acts in motion in your novel. Some characters were careless, others malicious, others just ignorant. Do you feel like indifference is worse than hatred or better? Is it the same?

Vanessa: Very interesting question. You have to care deeply about someone to hate them. Hatred requires a big commitment of emotion, whereas indifference is the opposite. Just like cold and hot can be mistaken for each other at the extremes, so love and hate can be confused. You hear sometimes that intense love affairs can almost feel like hatred of the other person because the emotion is so consuming. Hatred is a bond, even if it’s malign. Indifference is nothing, it’s a vacuum of emotion, it’s the emptiness, the void. Indifference makes the other person invisible. So I guess that I would say, yes, it is worse than hatred because there is no connection at all. And without that connection, unspeakable things can become normal.

Tiffany: Your book ends with an Epilogue that takes place some time after the main events of the story. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but I wonder if you could talk about your decision to write the ending that way. I was fully prepared to be left with a lot more questions, and found myself so grateful that you addressed the fates of some of the larger characters. Was that something you’d always planned to do? Or was it something you came to after writing the main story?

Vanessa: Endings are so hard! Although I had decided on all the fates of the characters, when I got to the final scene of destruction it seemed wrong to leave it there. Most readers have shared your opinion, that they were glad to have the Epilogue. I didn’t decide to write it until I had finished writing the main story. I had a lot of factual material about the clean-up after the storm, but it was so grim, and there had been enough grimness already. So I decided to skip to a point in time where the town was getting back on its feet, but still with a long way to go. Maybe it’s sentimental, but I wanted to end on a hopeful note. And it mirrors the opening of the book. At the beginning, we see all the characters preparing for the barbecue. In the Epilogue, they are preparing for the unveiling of the monument. I liked the symmetry of that. And, having asked the reader to invest time in caring about the characters, I felt an obligation to show what happened to them.

* * *

Under A Dark Summer SkyUnder a Dark Summer Sky is a stunning debut novel, at once a love story set in a time of great turmoil and a vivid depiction of a major natural disaster.

Florida, 1935. In Heron Key, relationships are as tangled as the swamp’s mangrove roots. It’s been eighteen long years since Henry went away to war. Still, Missy has waited, cleaning the Kincaids’ house and counting the stars. Now he’s back, but she barely recognizes the desperate, destitute veteran he’s become ― unsure of his future, ashamed of his past. When a white woman is found beaten nearly to death after the Fourth of July barbecue, suspicion falls on him immediately. As tensions rise in the small community, the barometer starts to plummet ― a massive hurricane is on its way.

Based on real historical events,Under a Dark Summer Sky evokes what happens when people, sweating under the weight of their pasts, are tested to the absolute limits of their endurance.

read more

Author to Author: The Storms Edition, Part One

Today’s post by Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye | @tqtyson and @VanessaLaFaye

We’re thrilled to have Tiffany Quay Tyson and Vanessa LaFaye on the blog today as they discuss their novels, THREE RIVERS and UNDER A DARK SUMMER SKY. Both books take place in the South and center around storms that dramatically change the lives of their characters. Enjoy the interview because we’re certain you’ll enjoy the books!

Storms Collage

Tiffany says: I’m gobsmacked by the similarities between Vanessa’s book and my own. The stories are completely different, but there are so many common details. In talking with Vanessa, the reasons for that became clearer. We both grew up in the South, but neither of us wanted to live out our lives there and we haven’t. Even so, we both have a complicated affection for the South. Probably that has something to do with the fruit cobbler, which makes an appearance in both our novels. You cannot turn your back on a place that offers up such good food. Here’s hoping Vanessa and I will trade stories over a hot, bubbling cobbler someday soon. I’ll bring ice cream.

Vanessa: Melody, your main character, has the most bad blood with her mother, Geneva, who is a piece of work!  We see a lot of tenderness with her father, who was no Boy Scout either, but only memories of Geneva.  Do you feel that there is hope for her and Geneva?  Were you tempted to show us the big confrontation between them?  Or is that for us to imagine?

Tiffany: I think there is always hope, but I don’t imagine Geneva and Melody ever having a very warm relationship. By the end of the story, they understand each other a little better. There is more compassion. As for a big confrontation, I think the content of any potential confrontation was revealed over the course of the book and I didn’t want to revisit it in dialogue. I do believe the reader can imagine how such a confrontation might go in the future, but it didn’t feel like part of this story.

Vanessa: Would you describe yourself as a Southern writer, or someone who writes about the South?  And do you intend to set other books there, or was it more about the story than the setting? Do you feel part of the ‘Southern novel’ tradition (whatever that is)?

Tiffany: I left Mississippi when I was just 21, but I can’t seem to stop writing about it. In some ways, I think it’s easier to write about a place when you’ve left it behind. Distance provides perspective. The South is a place with such a fraught history, but also a place with tremendous pride in things like tradition and heritage. Southerners like to put forth this image of being pious and genteel, but there’s an awful lot of violence and corruption and coarseness on display. Those contradictions are interesting and make for good storytelling. Ultimately, though, I don’t think about any of that when I sit down to write. The stories I have to tell just seem to spring up in Southern settings and characters. Maybe that’s what makes a Southern writer. If so, I’d definitely consider myself part of that tradition.

Vanessa: I get asked a lot about my experience of hurricanes, so I’m going to ask you about floods. Have you ever experienced a major natural disaster?  How much of the flood was drawn from life, and how much from research?

Tiffany: Yes, though the flood in the book is purely fictional and is much, much worse than anything I’ve experienced first-hand. Bad weather and terrible storms are a fact of life in Mississippi and in the South in general. Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi the year I was born. Tornadoes destroyed a shopping center and numerous homes in our neighborhood in Jackson. There was tremendous wind and water damage. My mother said she sat in the hallway of our home holding her brand new baby (me!) and willing it to be over. When I was about 10, the Pearl River flooded Jackson on Easter weekend. My cousins were in the path of the worst flooding and so they came to our house to ride out the storm. We hunted eggs indoors that year. It was weirdly festive.

When I was about 20 and working as a reporter for the local paper in Greenwood, Mississippi, there was a terrible flood in the Delta. I was out of town covering a change-of-venue trial. By the time I got back to Greenwood, the roads were mostly clear, but there was still standing water in the fields. I went straight from sitting in a courthouse all day to traipsing around in floodwaters shooting photos of half-submerged churches. Some scenes in the book are pulled from those memories.

Vanessa: I like that you don’t tidy up all the story lines at the end.  I kept wondering about what would happen next with Melody and Obi, the drifter on the run, and Melody and Geneva.  Did you leave the door open for a sequel?  Or is this just because life isn’t tidy and we don’t get all the answers we want?

Tiffany: I’m not planning a sequel. Life isn’t tidy, and I don’t think every question can or should be answered in the course of a novel. However, I did work to answer the big questions, the truly fateful ones. I didn’t want the reader wondering about whether someone lived or died, but I’m okay if they are left to wonder about someone’s ultimate happiness. This story really takes place over the course of three days. There are plenty of memories on the page; the past is revealed, but the future is uncertain. Life is like that, I think.

Vanessa: What is the significance of 1990 for the setting of the book?  Does it have a special meaning for you, or the characters?  It seems like a very specific choice.

Tiffany: It was important for the reader to know we were in a world before cell phones were ubiquitous, before everyone had computers in their homes. My characters don’t have access to the Internet. They aren’t getting storm alerts from gadgets in their pockets. Really, it was not so long ago that someone might be surprised by the weather. It seems impossible today. I chose 1990 specifically because that’s the year I lived in the particular area where the novel is set. That year resonates with me in this setting.

* * *

Three RiversA massive storm was coming straight for Mama’s little plot of land in the Mississippi Delta and there was no way any of them could outrun the weather.

For three years Melody Mahaffey has been on the road, touring as a keyboardist with a terrible Christian pop band she can hardly stand. So when her mother calls, full of her usual dire news and dramatic pronouncements, Melody is relieved to pack her bags and call it quits. But at the sprawling, defunct Three Rivers Farm her family calls home, Melody is shocked to discover her father is dying. Even worse, her mother has abandoned the family, leaving Melody the sole caretaker of her father and brain-damaged brother. Sure that her daughter will do the right thing, Geneva leaves to seek spiritual guidance and break things off with her long-time lover.

Rain begins to fall and an epic flood threatens the Mississippi Delta. While Melody tries to get a handle on the chaos at home, a man and his little boy squat on her land, escaping their own nightmare. Obi is on the run from a horrific mistake, and he’s intent on keeping his son with him at any cost. When the storm arrives, though, they have no choice but to take shelter in Melody’s house. And the waters just keep rising.

A lifetime of lies, misunderstandings and dark secrets bubble to the surface as the flood destroys the land and threatens their lives. Set against the fertile but dangerous landscape of the rural south near the fictional town of White Forest, Mississippi, Three Rivers beautifully weaves together three parallel stories, told over three days, as each character is propelled headlong into the storm.

read more