How We View Characters, A Double Standard

Today’s post by Helen Giltrow, author of THE DISTANCE | @HelenGiltrow

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel is one of our book club selections for fall. It’s a tense, gritty, brilliant thriller and today Helen shares a few valuable insights on the double standards prevalent in how we view male and female characters–especially those whose work is illegal or immoral.

Helen Giltrow Collage

The ‘hero from the wrong side of the law’ is a well-established figure in crime fiction. The chances are you’ve met one, whether it’s in Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal or Jo Nesbo’s latest, The Son. My lead character, Karla, is another: a woman who sells secrets to criminals, or manipulates data on their behalf. You need the floorplans of a bank, or the contents of a government server? You need to disappear? You go to her.

She’s a professional who takes a cool, pragmatic approach to her business. It doesn’t bother her that it’s entirely criminal.

Of course, as with so many criminal leading characters, she has admirable qualities too. She’s fiercely loyal to the members of her team. She protects those who are vulnerable. And there are most definitely lines she won’t cross. She doesn’t deal with psychopaths or terrorists, and violence is alien to her; to get the information she needs she’ll work on people’s trust, she’ll manipulate technology, but when all else fails, she must fall back on her wits.

She has a strong sense of empathy, too; she tries to repress it, but it’s always there, and sometimes it slips out, drawing her into an involvement that goes way beyond the professional.

So it came as a surprise when I met someone who obviously found Karla troubling. The reason? ‘She needs explaining,’ they said, adding, ‘in a way that a male character probably wouldn’t.’

In other words, she’s not just criminal. She’s criminal and female.

Another reader – who personally liked and ‘got’ Karla – touched on the same point, but went further: ‘Some people might be more comfortable with Karla’s illegal activities if she had a mental illness.’ I was stunned – until I looked back at the female leads in the big crime novels of the last few years. Gone Girl: Amy’s a sociopath. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Lisbeth Salander’s borderline Asbergers.

So did those two readers have a point? Are characters judged according to a double standard, with different rules applied to women and men?

Cathy Rentzenbrink – interviewing Helen Walsh about her recent novel The Lemon Grove – would seem to think so. She summed up the situation thus: ‘A transgressive woman is a transgressive woman where a transgressive man is just a man.’

And perhaps for some – maybe not many, but a few – there are acceptable ‘female’ reasons for criminal behaviour. To mental illness we could add revenge; protection of a child; even simple lack of choice.

But Karla’s doing it because it’s her job.

And honestly – why not?

* Note: this article was originally written for Shots Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from Doubleday Books.

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What We’re Into: September Edition

This month’s edition of What We’re Into brought to you by Marybeth Whalen | @Marybeth Whalen (Because Ariel has been traveling and sick and on deadline and visiting with ALL THE BOOK CLUBS and the only thing she’s into right now is her pillow)

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

It’s officially fall– both in time and temperature– around here. Time for cozy afghans, soup and cornbread, football, apples and pumpkins. Red, orange and gold are the colors de jour. Evenings are spent on the deck with red wine and candlelight enjoying the mild temperatures, my husband and I unpacking our day together while the kids settle into their homework and nightly routines.

September has been about the transition from mourning summer to celebrating fall. I am fully embracing the season now. My Pinterest board of all things fall represents the things I love most about this season, so check it out if you want a little fall inspiration.

These two different fall home tours kept me busy on several evenings. I love peeking into other people’s homes, and this is a fantastic way to do just that. So many clever ideas.

And as for the foods of fall, check out this wonderful collection of fall slow cooker meals. Some good stuff here you’ll want to add to your menu plans soon!

NestOn the reading front, I downloaded the new middle grade book Nest by Esther Ehrlich to read aloud to my youngest daughter, but it hasn’t happened this month. I’m looking towards October for that to happen. It sounds like the perfect book to sink into in the fall. See if you agree:

A heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.

Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you.

Sister Mother Husband DogI also enjoyed the memoir Sister Mother Husband Dog by Delia Ephron, an accomplished writer who also happens to be the sister of Nora Ephron. I recommend this book to anyone who loved When Harry Met SallySleepless In Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail, or anyone who has a sister. I read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn last year and enjoyed it immensely. So this memoir about the woman behind the book was all the more meaningful for me. I listened to it narrated by Meg Ryan, which made it all the more pleasant. It’s equally funny, thought-provoking and emotional– all the things I look for in a good read.

The new tv season premiered this month, and it looks like Monday nights are going to be the big tv watching night at our house. We all gather for Gotham, seeing as how we are all huge Batman fans. This was a show we were counting down the days to. I wasn’t wowed by the first episode, but am hopeful it’ll pick up in subsequent episodes. The premise is brilliant. How did Riddler and Joker and Poison Ivy become master criminals?? I can tell you the Whalens want to know.

I also binge-watched (for the first time I will add) the whole first season of The Blacklist in preparation for the new season. This was a show I felt I had missed out on but heard about too late in the season to really understand what was going on. So I was glad to find it on Netflix and indulged in many hours of playing catch up on a weekend I was too sick to do much else. The season premiere did not disappoint and I can’t wait to watch James Spader be his clever, funny, daring self week after week. The man in the hat is where it’s at.

All of this to say, I am now looking forward to Mondays! And that is no small thing.

Finally here are two random links to posts I enjoyed reading this month. Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and Love Anthony, among other books, shares some rules for writing I found insightful and wise.

And the debate on paper vs plasma continues. This post goes into how your brain processes the two. Good to think about.

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Author to Author, An Interview: Part Two

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

If you missed the first part of our Author to Author series, do read Tuesday’s post. We’ve invited Julie Lawson Timmer and Carrie La Seur to interview one another on She Reads this week and they’re talking about being debut authors, attorneys, wives, and mothers. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of first time authors and the way their worlds have changed now that they have published books. Today Carrie La Seur interviews Julie Lawson Timmer about her novel, FIVE DAYS LEFT.

We have a copy of FIVE DAYS LEFT up for grabs today.  See the entry form below for details.

Carrie La Seur

Carrie La Seur

Carrie: Hello Julie! I’m enjoying your book but I’m really afraid to find out how it ends. You’ve written about an experience – facing a terminal illness – that’s difficult to get inside of without a fairly unpleasant outcome. How did you research the reality of being Mara, and her decision? Have you had feedback from people living with Huntington’s about your portrayal?

Julie: Hi, Carrie! What fun to do a Q+A with another author! I did a great deal of research about Huntington’s, first reading every book, newspaper article and online resource I could find, and then talking to experts who work with HD patients. It was vital to me to get the details of Mara’s condition accurate. I’ve received feedback from people in the HD community, and so far, it’s been good. As I hoped, they’ve said FIVE DAYS LEFT is a help, both in its realistic portrayal of HD and in its explanation of the disease to readers who might not have been aware of it. Nothing would make me happier than to hear that others in the HD community found the book to be helpful, and that those outside the HD community were inspired by the book to donate to HD research.

Carrie: How has publishing your novel changed your sense of yourself as part of a community of writers? Did you have a writing group or friends who are writers before now?

Julie Lawson Timmer

Julie Lawson Timmer

Julie: One of the best things to have come from writing FIVE DAYS LEFT is the relationships it’s allowed me to form with other writers. I have loved meeting other authors, both through social media and at bookish events. In the early days of writing the book, I went to a writer’s conference and met a group of terrific people, and we have remained close ever since. We have read each other’s chapters and queries and supported each other through times of frustration with our writing, and through successes. The writers in the group live far from Ann Arbor but drove up for the launch anyway, and I can’t adequately express what that meant to me.

Carrie: You make an intriguing choice by including a couple of characters who were adopted from India. For you, is this an important element of the story? How do you think this cultural connection affects their response to tragedy – or does it?

Julie: For me, Mara’s heritage doesn’t impact her response to her diagnosis. It is simply who she is. And this might sound crazy, but I didn’t consciously make Mara Indian, or decide to have her adopt her daughter Lakshmi. When I first conceived of the concept for FIVE DAYS LEFT and started making notes, Mara’s character came to me, almost fully formed. In my mind, I saw her traveling to India with her American husband and Indian parents. I saw them making the trek to an orphanage–the same one Mara had been adopted from herself. It was almost like I was picturing a movie I’d seen before–it was like this trip had happened, and I was simply reporting it.

Five Days LeftAbout the book:

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.

Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most.
Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance and the power of relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

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How Family Can Impact A Story

Today’s post by Diane Chamberlain | @D_Chamberlain 

Diane Chamberlain Collage

I’m so delighted that SHE READS has chosen my new novel The Silent Sister as one of its Books for Fall, and I’d love to tell you a little about the story.

If you have siblings, you know that your experience of your family may be totally different from that of your sister or brother. In my family, for example, the four of us sometimes feel as if we grew up in entirely different households. Whenever we get together, we argue over our memories:

Diane: “Do you remember the day Dad got the car stuck in the mud with Grandma inside?”

Rob: “Grandma wasn’t inside. Grandpa was.”

Joann: “Actually, it was Mom who got the car stuck in the mud.”

Tom: “There was no mud. We were in the middle of a drought.”

Sound familiar? For the three siblings in The Silent Sister, though, the differing family experiences are of far greater significance and the stakes in how they resolve those differences are much higher.

Everyone has always believed that Lisa MacPherson killed herself when she was seventeen. But when her sister, twenty-two-year-old Riley, discovers that Lisa is actually alive, she decides she absolutely must find her. Riley enlists their brother Danny, a troubled Iraq war veteran, to help her track Lisa down, not realizing that Danny’s motivation to find their sister is very different from her own—or that Lisa is doing everything in her power never to be found.

When people ask me what my books are like, I always answer that they’re part suspense, part mystery, part intrigue and one hundred percent family drama. That could not be more true of The Silent Sister. I hope you’ll enjoy this story of a complex sibling relationship where mystery reigns, secrets abound, and family love ultimately triumphs.

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Author to Author, An Interview: Part One

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Spend enough time in publishing and you start to notice patterns. Sometimes it’s a popular genre. Other times it’s a trend in book covers. And I’ve learned that when multiple patterns converge I need to pay attention. So when two debut authors started making waves this summer I started taking notes. They are both attorneys, women, mothers, literary novelists, and residents of northern states (don’t tell me that doesn”t influence their writing because I’m certain it does). They both had big first novels release in the last couple months. And most importantly (to me at any rate) they both agreed to interview one another right here on She Reads. So today we have the first in a two part interview series between Julie Lawson Timmer, author of FIVE DAYS LEFT, and Carrie La Seur, author of THE HOME PLACE. Our second installment will go live on Thursday. But for now, Julie Lawson Timmer interviews Carrie La Seur.

We’ve got a copy of THE HOME PLACE up for grabs today. See entry for below for details. And you can read my review of THE HOME PLACE here. Hint: I absolutely loved it.

The Home PlaceJulieIt’s always nice to meet another writer who juggles a demanding career, a family and writing. And now, you have publicity for The Home Place to add to your juggle. How did you fit writing your debut into your work/family balance when you were initially working on the drafts and rewrites? Do you think that whatever write/work/parent schedule you used to draft your first book will work going forward, or do you anticipate having to make some tweaks? I imagine that having a book out makes the juggle harder in many ways, from a pure busy-ness standpoint. Are there any ways in which it’s made life easier?

Carrie: The way I did the first one was by taking ten years at it, although the later stages involved late nights and weekends. I just gave my editor the manuscript for the second book, after revising with my agent, so I can testify that writing this one was an entirely different trip to the circus. I took a few weeks’ leave from work a couple of times over the winter and spring as I was trying to put together big chunks. During August I was on tour for The Home Place while trying to revise the new book – temporarily called Bert, because nobody can agree on a title – so it came together in places including the following: beside my cousin’s pool in Orange County, CA; on my front porch; in my law office; in hotel rooms and restaurants around the west coast and intermountain west; in bookstore coffee shops while waiting for my event to start; and in airports, airplanes, and other forms of transportation. The big thing that’s easier is that I have the motivation of knowing people want to read what I’m writing. That helps the mental game hugely.

Julie Lawson Timmer

Julie Lawson Timmer

JulieI love the Willa Cather quote you’ve referred to in some interviews, about how “a novel is cremated youth.” You have said that in writing The Home Place, you drew on everything and everyone you know. You’ve had quite an interesting life, and not all of it in Montana, or in the legal field. Do you think your future books will all draw on more of who and what you know in Montana, and the law? Or do you see on the horizon a book about the people and things you know in Australia and England or the eastern part of the United States, all places where you have spent some time? Maybe something about academia or the writing life, rather than the law? 

Carrie: One reason why I started publishing a little older than the average debut author seems to be is, I think, that I needed to figure out which stories I really care about telling. So far, those are the stories I’m writing, about the forces that threaten the places I love, the people who live here and their unique dramas. Maybe I’ll lose interest in that at some point, but consider for example Louise Erdrich, who’s spent most of her writing career chronicling her reservation in North Dakota over the long arc of time. Those stories will never be over, and they’ll always be fascinating.

JulieThe Home Place has been out for almost two months now. How has your life changed, now that you have a book in the world? In terms of your legal career, are people at the firm always asking if you’re going to retire from the law to become a full-time novelist? Are they eyeing you through your office door, wondering if the notes you’re writing on your legal pad are about your work in progress, rather than legal matters? What about life as a Montanan? Is there pressure for you to keep writing about Montana, to keep showing the rest of the world what life is like there?

Carrie La Seur

Carrie La Seur

Carrie: I won’t lie, my partners would like me to be able to predict the future better than I currently can. Writing and publicity are taking more of my time, so if things go well on that front, the day may be on the horizon when I no longer have time to practice law. But people tell me that you need to have as many as five books in print before you can be sure that you can make a living this way, and I’ve never been the sort of woman who’s comfortable not making her own living. Call it my working class roots. The community of Montana writers is much larger and more welcoming than I had imagined. Well, I hadn’t imagined. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re writing a novel. You don’t imagine who else is out there living the same struggles, and it feels like a little miracle to find them. So far, though, the only pressure to write about Montana comes from people who want to hear more about my Montana characters, who are in the second book.


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

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

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

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Book Trailer of the Day: We Are Not Ourselves

* Email readers can click here to watch the video.

We Are Not OurselvesBorn in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

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The Books Of Fall: Meet The Authors

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Last week we announced the four novels we’ve chosen as our book club selections for Fall. So today we want to meet the ladies who wrote them. (Myself included, though most you know me already, so just ignore that bit).

Lisa Jewell Collage

Lisa Jewell, author of THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN

Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the internationally bestselling author of ten previous novels, including The Making of Us and Before I Met You. Find her on Facebook or on on Twitter @LisaJewellUK

Helen Giltrow Collage

Helen Giltrow, author of THE DISTANCE

HELEN GILTROW is a former bookseller and freelance editor whose writing has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and the Telegraph “Novel in a Year” Competition in the United Kingdom. She lives in Oxford, England. This is her first novel. Find her on Twitter: @HelenGiltrow

Diane Chamberlain Collage

Diane Chamberlain, author of THE SILENT SISTER

Diane Chamberlain is the international bestselling author of twenty-two novels. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole. You can find her on Twitter: @D_Chamberlain

Ariel Lawhon Collage

Ariel Lawhon, author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, and HINDENBURG (coming in 2016). Ariel is highly susceptible to peer pressure and therefore you can find her on Twitter as well: @ArielLawhon


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Friends: The Family You Make For Yourself

Today’s post by Elaine Hussey, author of THE OLEANDER SISTERS | @PeggyWebbAuthor

We’ve got two copies of THE OLEANDER SISTERS up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Elaine HusseyI could not have written The Oleander Sisters without mining a lifetime of memories. Like Sis, I’m the go-to girl in my family. When my two sisters and I went through the last year of our mama’s life, every conversation I had with my older sister started with her asking, “What are we going to do?”

Just as Emily always looks to Sis for a solution, so does Jo Ann always look to me.

A few months ago when she received word that her husband, my dear brother-in-law, has cancer, she asked the same question. “You don’t have to walk this walk alone,” I told her. “I’m here.” Furthermore, I told her we would do exactly as Mama would. Marie Westmoreland Hussey was the most courageous woman I know; she would fight a cross-cut saw for those she loved.

You will see my feisty mama all over Sweet Mama and Beulah in The Oleander Sisters.

The most poignant parts of this novel – the hospital scenes – were also the hardest for me to write, not because I didn’t know how the sisters would react, but because I know all too well.

On New Year’s Eve in 2010, I received a late night call from Mike Talbert, husband of my lifelong friend. “Jane fell,” he said. “We’ve air-lifted her to Tupelo. Please come.” It was no mere fall. Jane’s dog had dragged her on the leash, slammed her head into the concrete and caused a massive brain hemorrhage.

Jane was lucid when I arrived. In fact, she was laughing and joking about celebrating the New Year in ER. One of her daughters suggested we get party hats and bazookas.

By morning, Jane was in ICU in a coma.

I camped out in the waiting room, living for my turn to hold her hand and say, “Jane, you’re strong. You’ll beat this. I’m right here and I won’t let you go.”

And I didn’t. I was there when her heart stopped, there when she came out of brain surgery, there every day telling her the same thing. Not in a whispery, scared way, but in the strong way of a woman who will fight a cross-cut saw for those she loves.

Miraculously, Jane not only survived, but she regained full use of motor skills and cognitive abilities. I’ll never forget what she told me. It was months after the accident, when she could finally talk.

“I heard you when I was in the coma. It was your strong voice that pulled me out.”

I am so blessed to have a friend like Jane and to know she would do exactly the same thing for me. I am so grateful to have sisters as well as sisters of the heart who inspire me to write novels like The Oleander Sisters.

I’ve love to hear about your sisters of the heart. Two people who leave comments will receive signed copies of The Oleander Sisters.

Thanks so much for letting me stop by to chat!

* * *

The Oleander SistersAn emotionally riveting tale of the bonds of family and the power of hope in the sultry Deep South 

In 1969, the first footsteps on the moon brighten America with possibilities. But along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a category five storm is brewing, and the Blake sisters of Biloxi are restless for change. Beth “Sis” Blake has always been the caretaker, the dutiful one, with the weight of her family’s happiness—and their secrets—on her shoulders. She dreams of taking off to pursue her own destiny, but not before doing whatever it takes to rescue her sister.

Emily Blake, an unwed mother trying to live down her past, wants the security of marriage for the sake of her five-year-old son, Andy. But secure is the last thing she feels with her new husband. Now she must put aside pride, and trust family to help her find the courage to escape.

With Hurricane Camille stirring up havoc, two sisters—each desperate to break free—begin a remarkable journey where they’ll discover that in the wake of destruction lies new life, unshakable strength and the chance to begin again. Dreams are reborn and the unforgettable force of friendship is revealed in The Oleander Sisters, an extraordinary story of courage, love and sacrifice.

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When the Truth is Stranger, Better, and More Intriguing Than Fiction

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

One of the best things about being a writer is the chance to travel and meet other writers. To swap stories. To hear about their books and their obsessions and the things that drive them out of bed in the middle of the night to scratch ideas on bits of paper. We recently met two authors that we think you will love as much as we do. The remarkable thing about these women is that they do not write fiction. Marybeth and I find this bizarre and fascinating and unfathomable because we tend to think that EVERYONE writes fiction. But they do something better: they mine the dark corners of history to unearth those little, forgotten gems. They are journalists. Biographers. Historians. They are brilliant. And so Denise Kiernan and Karen Abbott show us that the truth is stranger than fiction.

Here they are, in their own words, to talk about their latest books.

*email readers can click here to watch the videos

The Girls of Atomic CityThe Girls of Atomic City: the untold story of the women who helped win WWII by Denise Kiernan

AT THE HEIGHT OF WORLD WAR II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians–many of them young women from small towns across the South–were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war–when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.

Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it–women who are now in their eighties and nineties– The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.



Liar Temptress Soldier SpyLiar Temptress Soldier Spy: four women undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history”(USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.


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First Paragraph Preview: The Books of Fall

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

There’s something about the first lines of a novel. They tell you everything you need to know. So much of the tone, the mystery, the heart of a novel is captured in its opening. I’m a sucker for a great first line. But a good paragraph? A good page? Well, when an author delivers those things I’m sold.

So we thought it would be fun to give you a first paragraph preview of our newly announced book club selections for Fall. If you missed the announcement you can read about it here and enter to win all four of these wonderful novels. I think, once you’ve read these first paragraphs, you’ll see why we chose them as our Books of Fall.

The House We Grew Up InThe House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Tuesday, 2nd November 2010

Hi, Jim!

Well, I must say, I didn’t think for a minute you’d be called something earthy like Jim! The Barbour and natty waistcoat in your profile photo make you look more like a Rupert or a Henry, something serious with two syllables, you know! And talking of syllables, and since you asked, no, I’m not really called Rainbowbelle. OF COURSE NOT! I’m called Lorelei and my name has three or four syllables, depending on how you say it. (My parents named us after mythical maidens. My sister is called Pandora. There was an Athena, but she was stillborn, so you know.) Anyway, Lor-a-lay-ee. Or Lor-a-lay. I’m not fussy really.

I’m sixty-five years old and I live in one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds in a big, crazy, old house full of what I call TREASURES and what my children call CRAP. We are probably ALL right. :-)

Read an excerpt of THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN here.

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The Distance

The Distance by Helen Giltrow

There’s blood in my hair. Twelve hours later and I’ve still got blood in my hair.

“Are you alright?”

The uniformed officer standing guard by the door is staring at my face in the washroom mirror. Breaking rules: she’s been ordered not to talk to me. Maybe she thinks I’ll faint.

They took my coat away from me last night, at the scene; the blood had soaked through to the lining. There was blood on my face, too, and blood on my hands, working its way into the cracks around my nails–the doctor who examined me cleaned most of it off before declaring me fit to be interviewed. I dealt with the rest as soon as I could, ignoring the pain, scrubbing my skin red-raw to get it out.

Nobody told me about my hair.

Read an excerpt of THE DISTANCE here.

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The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

All day long, people stopped along the path that ran through the woods by the Potomac River. Bundled in their parkas and wool scarves, they stood close to one another for warmth and clutched the mittened hands of their children or the leashes of the dogs as they stared at the one splash of color in the winter-gray landscape. The yellow kayak sat in the middle of the river, surrounded by ice. The water had been rough the night before, buffeted by snowy winds, rising into swirling whitecaps as the temperature plummeted and the waves froze in jagged crests, trapping the kayak many yards from shore.

The walkers had seen the kayak on the morning news, but they still needed to see it in person. It marked the end of a saga that had gripped them for months. They’d looked forward to the trial that would never happen now, because the seventeen-year-old girl–the seventeen-year-old-murderer, most were sure–now rested somewhere beneath that rocky expanse of ice.

Read an excerpt of THE SILENT SISTER here.

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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

We begin in a bar. We will end here as well, but that is more than you need to know at the moment. For now, a woman sits in a corner booth waiting to give her confession. But her party is late, and without an audience, she looks small and alone, like an invalid in an oversize church pew. It’s not so easy for her, this truth telling, and she strains against it. A single strand of pearls, brittle and yellowed with age, rests against the flat plane of her chest. She rolls them between her fingers as though counting the beads on a rosary. Stella Crater has avoided this confession for thirty-nine years. The same number of years she has been coming to this bar.

At one time, this meeting would have been a spectacle, splashed across the headlines of every paper in New York: WIFE OF MISSING JUDGE MEETS WITH LEAD INVESTIGATOR, TELLS ALL! But the days of front-page articles, interviews, and accusations are over, filed away in some distant archives. Tonight her stage is empty.

Read an excerpt of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS here.

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