Thank You

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

We will announce our March book club selection tomorrow, but I wanted to pause for a moment first and thank you. This is the first time I’ve been on She Reads as an author and I have a whole new appreciation for this reading community. You are engaged. Thoughtful. Funny. Enthusiastic. Warm. Intelligent. The authors featured here are truly the luckiest authors in the world. I am lucky to know you and to be read by you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank YOU.

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Picture This: A Visit With Susan Meissner

Today’s post by the amazing Susan Meissner | @SusanMeissner

I’ve been a fan of Susan Meissner’s writing since I read her much-acclaimed novel, THE SHAPE OF MERCY. So I’m delighted that she’s with us today, sharing about her latest novel. We’ve got a copy of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

A couple years ago I watched a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the part of Ellis Island that no one has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are literally falling into ruins. The lingering images of rooms where thousands upon thousands from a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. There had to be countless stories pressed into the walls and bricks and panes of glass of this hospital, stories of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life. But unless they were cured of whatever ailment they had arrived with, they would not set foot on America’s shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate waiting room– it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story.

When I first began pulling at plot threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful while a patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, and the more photographs I looked at, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place that was no one’s address. The dozens of languages spoken at Ellis added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was this nurse here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? I knew something life-changing had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames.  For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.

Meissner_Marigolds_Ellis nurses_caption

I knew I wanted something a person could touch, see, and embrace to tie these two stories together. I chose a scarf for rather deeply metaphorical reasons; they are accessories. They are meant to draw attention to something bigger. In this case, the scarf patterned in marigolds, and which links two women who will never meet, is there to draw attention to something far bigger than just the wearer. The book that evolved from looking at those haunting images of Ellis Island’s past is a story about the resiliency of the human spirit. It is centered on the truth that love, though the loss of it can tear your soul in two, is still the grandest thing there is, and is ultimately what will mend that heart that is broken.

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A Fall Of MarigoldsA beautiful scarf patterned in marigolds ties together the stories of two women as they struggle with grief 100 years apart.

In 1911, nurse Clara Wood witnesses the death of the man she loves in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and chooses to bury her grief and regret while ministering to sick immigrants on Ellis Island. Insulated from the rest of New York and the world, she refuses to set foot on the mainland, even on her days off. When an emigrant Welshman arrives wearing his deceased wife’s distinctive scarf, Clara finds herself drawn to the man and what she perceives as shared grief. But then she discovers something about the man’s wife that he does not know which places Clara in a moral dilemma while she ponders the depths and resiliency of love. Interwoven into Clara’s tale is the story of 9/11 widow and single mother Taryn Michaels, whose specialty fabric shop seems to cushion her against the overwhelming regret she’s known since witnessing the fall of the North Tower on September 11. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a newly published photo of Taryn watching the towers fall forces her to not only relive the event but face again the guilt of knowing that had she made different decisions that day, her husband would’ve lived.  The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.

 

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Author Profile: J.T. Ellison

Today’s post by New York Times Bestselling author J. T. Ellison | @thrillerchick

Our guest today is not only a great writer but one of my favorite people as well. I met J.T. Ellison a year ago when I moved back to Nashville and I knew instantly that she was a kindred spirit. (How can you not bond with a girl who loves Mexican food and OUTLANDER?) She’s been a huge encouragement to me in my own publishing journey and it’s a such honor to introduce her to you. J.T.’s latest novel, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, releases today (We’ve got a copy up for grabs–see the entry form below). It got starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and I’m certain it will be one of the year’s hottest thrillers. Grab some coffee. Pull up a chair. And enjoy a peek inside the mind of a truly gifted author.

(Nashville readers: J.T. will be signing books tonight at the Barnes & Noble in Cool Springs. I’ll be there with my party hat on and would love for you to join me in celebrating her most recent success!)

Ariel: You’re a seasoned, established author with eleven published novels under your belt. The general assumption would be that you have this writing thing figured out and that it’s easy for you. But given the nature of art, I’d guess that there’s still something about this process that takes you by surprise. Can you share with us what that might be?

J.T: Every time I sit down to write a book, I forget how to do it. You’d think after writing fourteen novels, I’d get the hang of it. But it never fails, it takes me at least 25,000 words to start feeling comfortable, and believing in the story, and it’s not until I hit 200 pages or so that I relax and start to allow the story to unfold as it needs. I never take anything for granted, because you never know when the muse is going to be naughty and not come out to play. And I’m always astounded when I type those three little pound signs – starting may be hard, but the moment you realize you’re finished is priceless.

Ariel: I’m always fascinated by how certain writers are drawn to certain genres. I tend to think it’s part of our literary DNA. (For instance, my early love of Agatha Christie ensures that anything I write will have a strong Mystery element.) What is it about writing Thrillers that is so compelling for you? What influenced you in that direction?

J.T: It’s the psychology behind crime that does it for me: the idea that one person decides they’re above the law, that they deserve something more than the next person, and carry on down a path that can lead to such dire consequences – murder and betrayal the least of it. I’m always amazed by how terrible people can be to each other. I studied psychology, of course, but it was a show called Profiler my then boyfriend, now husband, and I watched while we were dating that turned me on to this world. If I’d been ten years younger, I probably would have ended up in forensics instead of writing about them.

There is so little real justice in this world. I like to write stories where the bad guys get caught and the good guys ride off into the sunset. Call it an overdeveloped sense of morality. I am aghast at lawlessness. I have quite a healthy overactive imagination, too, which allows me to dream up all sorts of terrors.

Ariel: WHEN SHADOWS FALL is the latest installment in a series featuring forensic pathologist, Samantha Owens. From the outside it looks like you’ve mastered the art of writing series. But I’m curious to know the challenges that come with such an undertaking? And also the benefits? What are the unique considerations you must take when writing a character-driven series?

J.T: Given this is the third series I’m working on… I learned quite a bit of what not to do with my first series. I gave homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson too many limitations, didn’t give her enough room to expand the series inside her current role. She’s an iconic hero, and iconic heroes don’t change and grow very much. Of course, I never set out to write those books as a series, it sort of happened when I wasn’t looking. Seven books later, I found a way to continue her story without compromising the series.

With Samantha, I’ve been very deliberate, giving her persona and world all sorts of extra nooks and crannies that can be brought out, examined, developed, or stashed away for a later story. It’s very freeing having all these parameters set so loosely. She’s been such fun to write, to grow, to alter as I see fit. She’s a very relatable woman. She’s suffered a tremendous loss — her family drowned in the Nashville floods — and she’s had to find a way to keep facing each dawn since. Her journey from grief to joy to finding love again is the reason I’m writing these books. Sam lives with such grace, such strength. She inspires me. She engenders great loyalty from those around her. She’s smart and sassy and driven, but she steps in it, a lot, too, which makes her fun to write, and I hope, fun to read about.

It’s easy to write a series when your main character has this kind of depth. I build the world, then set the characters loose and see what sort of havoc they can create.

Ariel: Given your subject matter I’d guess that you’ve had at least one interesting experience in the name of research. Have you ever been to the morgue to witness an autopsy? Visited a shooting range? Or interviewed a doctor about the mechanics of murder? Do tell!

Oh, I have a few. I have done a set of autopsies, which was horrifying in its own wonderful way, and one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I won’t freak anyone out, but if you’re interested in hearing more about it, here’s a link to a piece I wrote on the experience.

I do go shooting. I grew up in the wilds of Colorado so guns were a part of life. I think it’s important to know what it feels like to handle a gun, to realize how hard it is to load under stress, just how much pressure you need to pull a trigger, all of that. To see a .22 bullet, something so small seems so harmless, and yet we know it’s not. It gives you a healthy dose of reality.

I did multiple ride-alongs with the Metro Nashville police, going out with homicide, overnight patrol. My first overnight, we were called to a stabbing in a terrible part of Nashville. The victim died on the scene, we caught the suspect, recovered the weapon, and took him to be booked, and there I sat, a murderer’s breath on the back of my neck. Very disconcerting, especially when I got home and realized I had the victim’s blood on my cowboy boot.

It all became very real for me that night, understanding the sacrifices our police make to keep us safe. I try very hard to be realistic and compassionate across all aspects of my writing – for the cops, for the victims, and for the villains. There is never gratuitous violence or faceless victims in my books. Only an examination of the psychology behind serious crimes, and maybe a few creepy scenes thrown in for good measure.

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WHEN SHADOWS FALLDear Dr. Owens, 

If you are reading this letter, I am dead and I would be most grateful if you could solve my murder… 

Forensic pathologist Dr. Samantha Owens thought life was finally returning to normal after she suffered a terrible personal loss. Settling into her new job at Georgetown University, the illusion is shattered when she receives a disturbing letter from a dead man imploring her to solve his murder. There’s only one catch. Timothy Savage’s death was so obviously the suicide of a demented individual that the case has been closed.

When Sam learns Savage left a will requesting she autopsy his body, she feels compelled to look into the case. Sam’s own postmortem discovers clear signs that Savage was indeed murdered. And she finds DNA from a kidnapped child whose remains were recovered years earlier.

The investigation takes Sam into the shadows of a twenty-year-old mystery that must be solved to determine what really happened to Timothy Savage. Nothing about the case makes sense but it is clear someone is unwilling to let anyone, especially Samantha Owens, discover the truth.

Add WHEN SHADOWS FALL to your Goodreads “want to read” list.

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Close up for TwitterJ.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including The Final Cut with Catherine Coulter, When Shadows Fall, Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Visit JTEllison.com for more insight into her wicked imagination, or follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick orFacebook.com/JTEllison14.

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Picture This: A Visit With Elizabeth Blackwell

Today’s post by author Elizabeth Blackwell | @eblackwellbooks

We have a copy of Elizabeth’s novel, WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Elizabeth Blackwell: photo credit Heidi Jo Brady

Elizabeth Blackwell: photo credit Heidi Jo Brady

Any parent of a daughter has at some point gotten dragged into the Princesses Debate: what message does it send when we glorify heroines in ball gowns who sing about waiting for their prince to come?

You can breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m not going to get into any of that. What I will do is make a proud stand in defense of Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty, which was the inspiration for my novel While Beauty Slept. Poor Princess Aurora is not on the royal A-list—she’s usually pushed off to the side in any Disney Princess lineup—and the movie she starred in was a flop when it was released in 1959. But it has a striking visual style, one that I found absolutely compelling as I watched the movie over and over with my young daughter. (It was her favorite Disney film for a while, which is not a choice most four-year-girls make—so I guess I owe her some thanks as well.)

Sleeping Beauty doesn’t look like your typical Disney movie. There are a lot of shadows and angular lines, and the villain, Maleficent, has a wonderfully creepy kind of magnetism. You can feel the damp stone of the castle walls and the eerie drama of that moment when Maleficent utters her curse. One day, I decided to sit through a making-of documentary at the end of the video, which explained that the artist who created the movie’s backgrounds and overall look, Eyvald Earle, had been inspired by medieval tapestries. An idea struck me: what if the whole story had been woven into a tapestry to commemorate events that really happened?

What if the whole story were true?

As I wrote While Beauty Slept, I wanted readers to have the same feeling I’d had while watching the movie: a combination of awe and unease, set in a castle that was both glamorous and terrifying. While my take on the Sleeping Beauty story is very different from the Disney version—and definitely isn’t meant for kids—the movie’s style and mood were a huge influence. Without Earle’s artistic vision, I never would have written this book.

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While Beauty Slept coverHistorical fiction at its best — The Brothers Grimm meets The Thirteenth Tale 

I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.

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Elizabeth Blackwell, author of While Beauty Slept, holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Wall Street JournalLadies’ Home JournalParentingChicago magazine, and the Chicago Tribune, and she is also the author of Frommer’s Chicago guidebook. She spent four years as an editor at North Shore, a lifestyle magazine for the Chicago suburbs, and wrote a weekly small-business column for www.TheStreet.com. In 2006, she won Harlequin’s “Everlasting Love” writing competition, and her first novel, The Letter, was published by Harlequin in 2007, followed by The House of Secrets (Harlequin, 2009).

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Pin It To Win It

The amazing publishing team at Doubleday has created a fun giveaway to celebrate the release of this month’s book club selection, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS. If you’ve not had a chance to pick up your copy, fear not! They are giving away ten copies of the novel, along with a gorgeous Tiffany necklace from the Jazz-Age inspired Ziegfeld Collection. (See below)

WMM Pinterest (2)

 

* Email readers click here for the image.

See entry official rules here.

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Book Club Recipe: The Wife the Maid and the Mistress

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

mint julepwtrmk

The Volstead Act and Prohibition, speakeasies, flapper girls, and bootleg operations held a fascination for me before I read Ariel Lawhon’s The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress. You can imagine my excitement when I learned that her book was the She Reads February selection.

It was the ways in which Prohibition affected American cuisine that I was particularly interested in learning when I first began researching the era. As it turns out, the Constitutional amendment that brought about the banning of all alcoholic beverages changed our country’s cuisine dramatically. Some culinary experts believe that Prohibition and the Great Depression permanently altered, if not ended, fine dining in our country.

Alcohol was no longer readily available for cooking or serving, and money for purchasing exquisite ingredients by the average American was even more scarce once the Depression hit. Whole cookbooks were written with alcohol substitutes included so the ordinary cook could still be successful in the kitchen. Extracts became popular for flavoring cakes and pastries where spirits, such as rum, were previously used.

It was still legal during the years that the Volstead Act was in effect for citizens to produce their own home brews and fermented fruits, but wineries converted their vineyards to table grape and other common fruit production. Cooking sherry was a wine that was produced for use in cooking with excessive amounts of salt added to discourage consumers from drinking it. Alcohol laden medicines were still available by prescription, which led doctors and pharmacies to dole out much more to individuals than was necessary, until a limit was imposed on its distribution, as well.

Another adaptation that was made to beverages during Prohibition, though high alcoholic content brews and distillations were still being produced on the sly, was the proliferation of the non-alcoholic cocktail. Strong flavors and colors were added to ordinary ingredients, such as fruit juice, to give the drinker a simulation of the bold spirits they were previously accustomed to.

The non-alcoholic mint julep could have been one of them. Here is a simple recipe for making a legal Prohibition Era mint julep, but feel free to add whatever spirits you like, such as bourbon, peppermint schnapps, whiskey, or even gin…simply because you can, thanks to a repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933.

My favorite thing about this non-alcoholic mint julep? It’s absinthe green! Maybe Ritzi, my favorite character from Lawhon’s novel, would have preferred it to the abominably strong concoction she was pressured to drink at Club Abbey.

Prohibition Mint Julep

Ingredients:

3 cups ice

1 cup fresh mint leaves

The juice of 1 lime

Simple syrup made from 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of water, and added flavoring ingredients, if desired. Adjust the amount to suit your tastes.

1 to 2 cups seltzer water. Adjust this amount according to how thick you want your drink to be.

Method:

A simple syrup is made by combining one part sugar to one part water and simmering them until the sugar dissolves and a sticky liquid is produced, but not long enough so that the sugar caramelizes. Aromatics, such as citrus zest, vanilla pods, or spices, can be added for flavor. Here is a honeysuckle simple syrup that I made when honeysuckle flowers were in bloom this past summer. Fresh mint could be added to the mint julep simple syrup to enhance the mint flavor and deepen the intensity of the blended beverage, but these flavoring agents should be steeped in the syrup after it has cooled a bit, then strained out.

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mintjulepmintlimewtrmk

Place all ingredients in a large blender and process until the ice is crushed and the mint is pureed throughout.

Pour or spoon into tall glasses and garnish each with a mint sprig.

Yield: 2 servings

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For The Love Of Reading

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

The Sangre de Christo Mountains, one of the many views from my childhood home

The Sangre de Christo Mountains, one of the many views from my childhood home

My mother read to me by the light of a kerosene lantern. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this but it’s true. I grew up in a small hippie town in northern New Mexico, in a home with no running water or electricity. My parents, descendants in a long line of cattle ranchers and cotton farmers chose to abandon the great state of Texas and forge their own path in the turbulent 70′s. We’re nostalgic about it now, my siblings and I; the wood burning stove and the cistern, the chickens and the outhouse. The way light hits the mesa at four o’clock in the afternoon. Running barefoot through the sagebrush. Picking Indian Paintbrush. Monsoons in summer. Blizzards in winter. We once found a cannon ball buried in the front yard–a relic from the old stagecoach road that passed in front of our house–and lost it again within a fortnight. It’s quaint and fascinating but it’s the sort of childhood you remember fondly because it’s in the distant past. Because it makes an interesting conversation starter. Because the hard, hard moments stack up evenly with the magical ones. Most people don’t know how to respond when they learn that I was raised so far off the grid that I actually fell off. So poor that the “dirt floor” analogy actually applied. And that’s OK. Because in life (as in fiction) the best stories are found on the outskirts, those bare, ragged edges of society. Or in my case, down a six-mile dirt road on the other side of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

In the absence of a television I discovered C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. L.M. Montgomery and Agatha Christie. I cried myself to sleep after reading WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. It’s the first book I ever threw against a wall. Later I had a brief but passionate literary love affair with Piers Anthony and his magical Xanth. I believed for years that these authors and their stories were mine, and I felt an irrational rage when I learned that other children loved them as well. I wanted to yank those books out of their hands and stomp away screaming, “Mine, mine, mine!”

I’ve become more generous in the years since I left the mesa. Instead of hoarding beautiful stories to myself, I now try to share them any chance I get. My mother no longer reads to me by the light of a kerosene lantern, though I’d jump at the chance if she offered. And I’m ever on the lookout for a novel that makes me feel the way I did as a child, curled up in a patch of sunlight, lost in the magic of story.

Here’s the truth: I wouldn’t change a moment of it even if I could. Those little bits, the flotsam and jetsam of my life, made me who I am today. My off-kilter childhood made me a relentless reader. It made me a storyteller. It made me a writer.

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Picture This: A Visit With Marci Jefferson

Today’s post by debut author, Marci Jefferson | @MarciJefferson

We’ve got a copy of Marci’s novel, GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Marci Jefferson_With Coin

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is the impossibility of on-site research. There are no photographs of Whitehall Palace as it was when Charles II ruled England. I can’t walk old London Bridge and listen to seventeenth century watermen’s calls echo across the Thames. To feel the French and English Baroque royal courts, I had to read a ton, study paintings, and run my imagination into overdrive. GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN took years to write, and a constant quest for inspiration to keep my creative juices flowing.

About a year into my endeavor, at a moment when I was overwhelmed with learning both how to write salable fiction and conduct historical research, my mother sent me a special gift. This is a 1675 British copper farthing. On the un-pictured reverse is the head of King Charles II of England. His queen should be pictured on the tail you see here. Instead, the king minted this infamous portrait of the woman he loved posed as Britannia. Her name was Frances Stuart.

The ancient Romans used the term Britannia to define islands on the edge of the known world. They minted coins using a female figure to personify the distant reach of their Empire. Charles II reintroduced Britannia as a symbol of Great Britain on a golden medal, struck to commemorate the end of his war with the Dutch. Later, he used the very same engraving to mint his copper coins, and it didn’t alter much over the next few hundred years.

GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN is about Frances Stuart, praised by diplomats and diarists for her beauty, beloved by kings and dukes, and chosen by Charles II to symbolize his nation. Having this three hundred year-old farthing in hand made her story come to life for me. There she sits in all her glory, with all her secrets, the enduring embodiment of an era.

Why isn’t my coin golden? Well, the gold version is actually that peace medal, now housed at the British Museum, and my mom just couldn’t afford that one. But I treasure this coin all the same, and I hope She Reads readers love Frances Stuart as much as I do.

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Girl on the Golden CoinIn 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns Frances Stuart and her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and goes to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty—she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He sends her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and help him form an alliance with England. The Queen Mother likewise orders Frances to become her son’s mistress, in the interest of luring him away from the Protestant mistress he currently keeps.

Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal, determined to keep her family from shame. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him and the two embark on a tenuous relationship. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. A startling discovery will leave her with no other choice but to break his heart, while the fate of England hangs in the balance.

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory, debut author Marci Jefferson brings to life a captivating woman whose beauty, compassion, and intellect impacted a king and a nation, in Girl on the Golden Coin.

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The Agent Recommends: Two Novels Daniel Lazar Wants You To Read

Today’s post by Daniel Lazar, Senior Literary Agent at Writers House | @DanLazarAgent

We’re delighted to have Daniel Lazar with us today as part of our ongoing series, The Agent Recommends. We occasionally ask literary agents to share recommendations with you, one novel they represented and one they did not. It’s a fascinating look into their personal and professional reading habits. Enjoy!

 

First off, thank you for the invitation to share a few recommendations. I’m resisting the urge to foist a dozen titles on you, as there are only 365 days in a year. Indulge me if more than one spill out, though.

Winter People

A book I love (that I represented):

I’d love to recommend Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, THE WINTER PEOPLE. Jennifer was one of my first clients– I was an assistant when I read her first manuscript (for Promise Not to Tell); it sat for weeks on my boss’s couch with my charming “Read!! this!! now!!” post-it notes splashed across the cover. Finally, he snapped at me, “If you love it so much, do it yourself!” And so I did. Five books and several NYT bestseller appearances later, I’m still lucky to be representing Jennifer McMahon.

Jennifer’s books explore the ramifications of long-ago crimes on present day characters, usually in the guise unforgettable young girls. She gets better with each book, but when I first read the early of pages THE WINTER PEOPLE, I knew Jennifer had hit a grand slam: here was a story with all her haunting, atmospheric hallmarks– Jennifer’s books truly sizzle with atmosphere!–but writ larger than ever before.

Spanning over a century in West Hall, Vermont, THE WINTER PEOPLE starts in 1908 when Sara Harrison Shea is found murdered in the field behind her house, just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. In present day West Hall, where some people still say Sara’s ghost walks after dark, a young woman named Ruthie (whose family now lives in Sara’s farmhouse) wakes up to find that her mother has vanished. As Ruthie and her little sister, Fawn, search the house for clues, they discover a secret compartment beneath the floor that contains two objects: a gun, and a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary from 1908. This diary tells us the story of a mother skating on the edge of sanity, willing to do whatever she can to bring her daughter back even if it means dabbling in dark and dangerous territory. And in the present day, as Ruthie is sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s death, she discovers that she’s not the only one looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

I remember reading the first draft of THE WINTER PEOPLE. It was actually (ironically?) in July, the middle of a hot, hot summer, and I was at the beach with friends. I had woken up early and was reading the manuscript downstairs, alone, while everyone slept upstairs. When I reached one pivotal scene in the book– I’ll say nothing more except that it involves a knock, knock, knocking — I was so deliciously creeped out by the pages (and by the silence all around me!) that I literally had to put the manuscript down and go distract myself (that knocking!) by making breakfast for the house. Don’t ask me what I made for that breakfast, I can’t recall; but I remember thinking that morning that Jennifer McMahon had written her breakout book. I couldn’t wait to share it with editors, and now I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

The Signature Of All ThingsA book I Love (that I didn’t represent): 

When you work in publishing, “real life” reading often takes a back seat. I find that my own “real life” reading is cyclical. Weeks go by immersed only in manuscripts–but then I come up for air to devour a slew of books just for sheer pleasure. 2013 was an especially productive “real life” year of reading; from the sublime (The Luminaries or the Newbery-winning “The One and Only Ivan) to the sexy (Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl—p.s. perhaps that’s a broad definition of sexy?). A standout was Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. What. A. Book.

The novel follows the life of Alma Whittaker, born in 1800 Philadelphia. Her father is a magnate who built his riches importing exotic plants and Alma– encouraged to hungrily educate herself on how the world works–takes after her father and grows into a noted botanist. In Gilbert’s hands, Alma’s fascination with plant life is painted as explosively as if she handled fireworks, not just moss. Alma is described as an odd and odd-looking character, but Gilbert gives us such an intimate and generous insight into her head, that I fell head over heels, even when Alma makes disagreeable choices (and there are several of these!), especially involving her beautiful but unreadable adopted sister. Seriously– how can anyone resist a novel with a too-smart-for-her-own-good heroine who is saddled with a too-pretty-yet-endlessly-baffling adopted sister?

THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS begins with Alma’s birth, but swings back into the history of her family throughout the previous century, and eventually follow Alma across the world after her own passions betray her. Literally across the world: the novel takes us from London to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam. Throughout, Gilbert challenges Alma’s thirst for knowledge (for the “signature of all things”) with artists, missionaries, sea captains, scientists and–most importantly– two great loves, each of whom change Alma’s life in ways big and small. And the story of Alma’s life is intertwined with the real history of the scientific community’s growth throughout the 1800′s, and of women’s roles—often uncredited— inside that explosive growth. You close this magnificent book marveling at how the Age of Enlightenment, and how many women, real life versions of Alma Whittaker, impacted our understanding of the world around us, from the dirt to the stars.

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Picture This — A Visit With Barbara Claypole White

Today’s post by Barbara Claypole White | @bclaypolewhite

Barbara Claypole White

Barbara Claypole White

THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, my second novel for Harlequin MIRA, is set in my little corner of the North Carolina forest. Close to Occoneechee Mountain, which is home to rare wildlife and plants dating back to the Ice Age, this part of the world is filled with Native American history, wild wisteria, venomous snakes, and the cries of hawks. From the day we moved here—nineteen years ago—I felt a strong connection to the land and a sense of living, breathing history. Walks through the forest revealed rusty mule shoes and wagon wheels, abandoned graves and hiking trails that connect to the historic Indian Trading Path. For a writer, this land is a gift, and it inspired THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR.

THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR is a story of two broken families that come together to heal. It’s a story of finding hope in darkness, which is a recurring theme for me. I create damaged, quirky characters who are isolated through invisible disabilities such as clinical depression, severe grief, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I send them to hell, but they always emerge on the other side if not happy and in love, then at least fighting. (As a Brit I feel the need to quote Sir Winston Churchill here: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”) One thing my characters share is the ability to discover the light ahead.

A serious woodland gardener, I have learned to pay attention to the quality of light in the shade and to find beauty in unexpected, hidden corners. I’ve also learned that no matter how deep I am in the forest, I can look up into the Carolina blue sky and see light filtering through the shadows.

My favorite time to be out in the forest is during the gloaming, that fleeting hour—or less—before the temperature dips and everything fades to black. The light is soft and warm, and the sinking sun ignites the treetops so they burn gold. Nothing beats the magic of the gloaming in Orange County, North Carolina. The world seems to stop, and it’s as if I’m caught between day and night in a moment of endless possibility. Many of the scenes in THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR are set during the gloaming. In fact, THE GLOAMING was the original title.

While I was updating my website, I snapped hundreds of photographs of our forest, trying to capture the light that spoke to me of the story behind the story. When I took the picture below, I knew I had found the essence of THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR: light pouring through bare trees to illuminate fallen leaves; light coming through the darkness; light bringing hope.

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The In Between HourWhat could be worse than losing your child? Having to pretend he’s still alive… 

Bestselling author Will Shepard is caught in the twilight of grief, after his young son dies in a car accident. But when his father’s aging mind erases the memory, Will rewrites the truth. The story he spins brings unexpected relief…until he’s forced to return to rural North Carolina, trapping himself in a lie.

Holistic veterinarian Hannah Linden is a healer who opens her heart to strays but can only watch, powerless, as her grown son struggles with inner demons. When she rents her guest cottage to Will and his dad, she finds solace in trying to mend their broken world, even while her own shatters.

As their lives connect and collide, Will and Hannah become each other’s only hope—if they can find their way into a new story,  one that begins with love.

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