Picture This: A Visit With Hannah Richell

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Hannah Richell | @HannahRichell

Hannah Richell

Hannah Richell

The Shadow Year began with one image: a tumbledown stone cottage hidden from the rest of the world in a remote English valley. It was an idea that dropped into my mind like a pebble and created such a ripples of ideas that it wasn’t long before a story had formed in my head.

The tricky part was settling on the location for the cottage. I needed somewhere with the necessary wildness that would allow my characters to feel truly ‘lost’. After some research, I settled on England’s Peak District and, with my fingers firmly crossed, I leapt out into the idea and began to write – at my desk in Sydney.

It was months later that my family and I found the opportunity to visit the Peak District. It was too late to alter a word of the novel but I couldn’t resist. We stayed in a small, unseasonably snowy village at the edge of the picturesque Dovedale region. The area was beautiful but I found my anxiety growing: could such a landscape really harbor a forgotten cottage?

On one of the last days of our holiday, I was amazed to notice a simple watercolor painting of a squat stone cottage hanging on the wall of our holiday home. The painting was entitled ‘The Magic Cottage’ and I couldn’t stop staring at it. It looked so like the place I had conjured in my mind all those months ago and, after a few enquiries, I discovered it was located just a short walk from where we were staying.

Magic Cottage

It took a whole packet of jellybeans to coax my two-year-old to the top of the snowy hill we’d been directed to, but as we came to the summit, there it stood: a ramshackle cottage, cut off from the rest of the world, nestled within a copse of leafless trees. It was abandoned and eerie, the snow falling silently around us, and so close to the image that had occupied my mind during all those months of writing, that for a moment it was as if I was one of my characters. There it was, my book, made real, and it felt like the most startling kind of synchronicity to see something pulled from my imagination, standing there in solid stone.

Picutre This Richell

* * *

tsyOn a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her housemates, it offers an escape, a chance to drop out for a while. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again. Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? And why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can’t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her? THE SHADOW YEAR is a mesmerizing story of tragedy, lies and betrayal.

Add THE SHADOW YEAR to your Goodreads to-read list.

Read an excerpt of THE SHADOW YEAR here.

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How A Mother’s Love Really Does Change Everything

Today’s post by author Sally Koslow | @SallyKoslow

Sally Koslow’s new novel, THE WIDOW WALTZ, is about the bond between mother’s and daughters. Today Sally is sharing a bit of her story with her own mom with us. It’s a moving tribute to the things we take for granted when we’re young. And since we have a copy of THE WIDOW WALTZ up for grabs today (see entry form below) we’d would love to hear from you as well. What do you love and remember about your mother?

Sally Koslow

Sally Koslow

In my childhood, women baked in self-defense. If Fargo, North Dakota, had any bakeries, they must have been hidden in underground silos. If you wanted a decent dessert, you (a) drove 221 miles north to Winnipeg, (b) drove 235 miles southeast to Minneapolis or (c) greased a pan and pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees. Sensible women chose (c).

Until my mother detoured into Bundt-land–her default recipe featured instant pudding, vodka and Galliano— she prepared treats every Friday: pies; prune bread (sounds vile, tasted heavenly),  a parade of cookies, bars and many cakes–airy angel food, heart-shaped layers for Valentine’s Day and sheet cakes crowned with broiled coconut or her mother’s seven-minute frosting.When I went off to college, Mom shipped me butterscotch oatmeal cookies in coffee cans. I suspect my boyfriend—now, husband–stuck around because he had a crush on the cookies, not me.

My mother never considered her baking special, so neither did I and spent my adolescence longing for a mom who spent more time buttering my ego while sharing wisdom to help me become irresistible to boys. I wanted CoCo-Chanel- meets-Jackie-O. What I got was a life member of Hadassah in orthopedic wedges with anklets whose hair-flair flatlined at pin curls and who, at the first rumble of stress, crashed with a migraine.

I yearned for a storybook mother-daughter relationship past the time I, too, became a mom. Then, abruptly, the fantasy imploded. I took my mother to a concert at the Metropolitan Museum which she insisted was the University of Minnesota, where she’d gone to college. I didn’t need a diagnosis of dementia–that came the next year–to guess what was happening, although Mom was younger than I am now. For the next few weeks, I couldn’t staunch my tears–for her tragedy and if I was being honest, for mine: the bond I dreamed of, measured by the high standards of my imagination, was never going to happen.

Soon, my mother forgot who I was. When we visited her new residence, a nursing home creepily decorated with patients’ childlike artwork, my husband and I tried to penetrate the maximum-security prison that is dementia. “Do you remember the recipe for those cookies you sent Sally at college?” he asked one afternoon. Recognition twinkled. “I forgot that recipe a long time ago,” my mom joked. It was the last coherent sentence I ever heard her utter.

Two years after my mother’s death, I had a dream. She was preparing Thanksgiving dinner and for dessert, she’d baked pumpkin pie, for which she gave me pointers:  “Plain whipped cream has no taste. Always add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar.” As she showed me the amounts, her voice was strong and her demeanor, alive.

I woke with a smile. The dream was both hello and good-bye.

When a friend has a dinner party, I’m the one who always volunteers to bring dessert. As I bake, often from recipes in my mom’s handwriting, I hear her Marge accent that I left in Fargo. “Refrigerate the dough.” “Don’t make a crust if the kitchen’s muggy.” “Take the eggs out early to get to room temperature.” “When you measure, accuracy counts–baking depends on chemical reactions.” I’m back in our childhood kitchen. Outside, sun bounces off snowdrifts, but inside, it’s cozy, warmed by the legacy of my mother’s love.

* * *

The Widow WaltzChosen by People and USA Today as a Great Summer Read

Georgia Waltz has an enviable life: a plush Manhattan apartment, a Hamptons beach house, two bright twenty-something daughters, and a seemingly perfect marriage. But when Ben dies suddenly, she discovers that her perfect lawyer-husband has left them nearly penniless. As Georgia scrambles to support the family, she and her daughters plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives, and Georgia even finds that new love is possible in the land of Spanx.

Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying, The Widow Waltz is a compulsively readable tale of forgiveness, healing, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.

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Author Profile: Sarah Jio

This month’s author profile features one of our favorite authors, Sarah Jio | @SarahJio

In celebration of Sarah’s sixth novel publishing this coming Tuesday, we’re doing a special giveaway. One winner will receive all six of her novels. See the entry form below for details!

Sarah Jio2I can thank three real-life characters for inspiring my sixth novel with Penguin (Plume), GOODNIGHT JUNE. Their names are Carson, Russell and Colby, and they are my wild and wonderful sons, ages 7, 5, and 3.

I was a newcomer to the classic children’s book, GOODNIGHT MOON, by Margaret Wise Brown, when I received it as a baby shower gift before my first son, Carson, was born. I remember picking it up for the first time, and reading it to him, then a colicky infant. It was a right-of-passage of motherhood, in some ways. As he grew, he quickly developed an affinity for the little book with the bunnies, the great green room, the bowl of mush on the bedside table. The balloons, the mittens, the telephone.

And then my second child arrived, and my third. I read them the book every night, just as I did for Carson. I could (and can still) recite the book by memory. And sometimes I would, nodding off in the yellow gingham upholstered rocking chair in the nursery, with a baby boy in my lap. GOODNIGHT MOON was such a central part of my daily routine that it inspired a parody for Parenting magazine that I wrote called “Goodnight Mom.” (Google it, and you’ll find it.)

Eventually, my novelist brain turned to a bigger story: I began to wonder about GOODNIGHT MOON’s author, Margaret Wise Brown. What was she like? What sort of life did she live? I read several biographies of her life, and my fascination grew. She was larger the life (truly, a lover of life—she once spent an entire advance check for one of her Random House children’s novels on a New York City flower cart. She pushed it home and decorated every square inch of her apartment with flowers). My kind of woman. And yet, what was her backstory? What inspired her iconic work, adored by children (and parents) for decades? What was the real story of the ‘great green room’?

I set out to to answers these questions when I began writing GOODNIGHT JUNE, a novel ultimately inspired by motherhood, and my three little rascals. It all began in the nursery.

Sarah Jio Collage

 Sarah’s a busy gal, but we recently caught up with her via email to ask a few questions about life, writing, and what’s next:

She Reads: GOODNIGHT JUNE is your sixth novel (and congratulations–what an accomplishment!) and I’m wondering if the process of sitting down and writing a novel gets any easier with time? Or is it always an act of faith, a belief that if you show up and work every day the story will come together in the end? (Can you tell I just started another novel and I’m in that hesitant, restless place? Please tell me it gets easier.)

Sarah: Thank you! And, well, no, I guess I don’t think it gets tremendously easier. But, for me, my confidence has grown as a writer—in risks I’m willing to take in storytelling, in ignoring my inner critic or the exterior critics whoever they may be. I’ve gotten better at shutting off all of these voices and just delving into a story that excites me. It was my rule of thumb from the get go, and remains so today: If a story doesn’t haunt me by day and keep me up at night, I ditch it. I’ve given up on several novels (some full length) because I just didn’t feel the magic. And yet, every draft is an act of faith. But it’s those moments of “magic” I look for—the intersection of truth, authenticity, and wow, in storytelling.

She Reads: I think you once told me that you don’t plot out your novels in advance, that the process of discovering the story is half the fun for you. That is fascinating to me and I wonder if you ever find yourself not knowing where the story goes? If so, how do you find it again?

Sarah: Yes! I’m a bit of a literary hippie that way, I guess. But, I have several writing rules: I must have a clean desk. I must have a great title. And I must have a fabulous beginning and ending. I often write the last chapter first. There’s something about typing ‘the end’ initially that is so incredibly satisfying. But yes, I love seeing where a story takes me. It’s like getting into the passenger seat of a beautiful convertible on a warm night and just throwing your arms up and letting go and enjoy the ride.

She Reads: GOODNIGHT JUNE centers around Margaret Wise Brown’s famous children’s book, GOODNIGHT MOON. (I’ve read this book to my children so many times I could recite it in my sleep. Also, when I read the book to my youngest son, my older children still come sit by me and help him find the mouse on every page). Are your boys still in the stage where you do the majority of the reading? Or have they discovered books for themselves? Any family favorites?

Sarah: Yes, we look for the mouse still, too. My boys are 7, 5, and 3, and they love the mouse, the balloon, and, funnily enough, the “mush.” I read this book to them so many times in the yellow gingham upholstered rocking chair in the upstairs nursery over the years that eventually my creative mind began to envision a novel inspired by it. I miss those days (no more rocking babies to sleep), but we read together every night. They still love all of their old beloved picture books, but we’ve moved on to The Magic Treehouse series, which my 7 year old enjoys reading.

She Reads: You have carved quite a career for yourself since THE VIOLETS OF MARCH debuted three years ago. What would you like to be writing/doing three years from now? Five years?

Sarah: What an inspiring question! I am so grateful for the career I’ve been able to build, and I honestly jump out of bed every morning excited for what the day will hold. I do have some exciting goals for the years ahead, but if I can just still be writing the stories I love and interacting with readers in the way I do, I will be one happy author. Oh, and to see one of my books make it to the big screen would be pretty awesome too (I may or may not already have a dress in mind for the red carpet!).

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Book Club Recipe for THE SHADOW YEAR

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


When the group of friends in Hannah Richell’s new novel, The Shadow Year, decided to put life on hold to live off the land in an abandoned cottage near the English moors, I was thrilled by the prospect. Though risky, because the college graduates were worried that the true owners of the homestead would appear and chase them off the lakeside land they believed they had taken for their own, their goal seemed reasonably attainable. One year. Four full seasons.

I expected that food would be scarce and the cool seasons harsh, but what I was shocked to witness as I read, was the free-for-all that sent the entire system spiraling into collapse. More difficult to navigate than the wild terrain surrounding their wilderness home, less predictable than the weather that chilled to threaten their existence, human nature proved to be the source of chaos that ended the dream of utopian self-sufficiency the close-knit group of friends shared.

Ramps, or wild leeks are common to parts of the United States. After doing a little research, I learned that in parts of England, in “sunny, well-drained” places, wild leeks and garlic can grow. I decided to combine my local Appalachian ramps with new potatoes, that I believe Richell’s squatters could have grown in their cottage garden, and mushrooms (of the non-hallucinogenic variety) that could easily have been foraged from the surrounding woody places.

A wood stove was all they had to cook with, but I believe roasting a pan of potatoes would have been easily accomplished in the little cottage.

Roasted New Potatoes with Mushrooms & Wild Leeks

2 lbs. new potatoes, scrubbed clean

1/4 lb. (1/2 c. cleaned) wild leeks, domestic leeks, or ramps

3/4 lb. mushrooms. I used white button because they are readily available, but forest mushrooms, such as morels or chanterelles, would be amazing in this dish, and more authentic to the story.

Salt & pepper

1/4 c. butter


Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Quarter or halve the potatoes, depending on their size, to bite sized pieces. Place in a 9X13″ baking pan.


Clean the leeks, peeling the outer layer off and trimming away the roots.



Trim wilted ends from the greens.


Slice them. I include the tender greens of ramps, though most people discard them.


Add them to the potatoes.


Quarter the mushrooms and combine them with the potatoes and leeks.


Generously season with salt & pepper.

Dot with butter.

Roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until tender and browned. Garnish with fresh leek greens, chiffonade.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Hannah Richell

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Hannah Richell | @HannahRichell

Hannah Richell Writing Space

I write in a small rented room in a sandstone building perched at the edge of Sydney’s harbour. It’s a little dingy and damp and being a converted pub it’s probably riddled with ghosts but to me it’s a haven. After writing my first novel in fits and starts at the kitchen table, it feels like a real luxury to have my own space outside of the home. This is all the more important when I remember that I’m the kind of person who can find folding laundry or trawling the entire internet to be sudden and urgent business when the words aren’t flowing. My room is quiet and private and, most importantly, there are no little people to rifle through my papers or smear my laptop with their sticky fingers or accidentally delete my Word documents. You can see my oh-so-sophisticated plotting method laid out on the floor beside the desk and a few reference books laid open at pertinent pages for inspiration and research. I guess I’d describe my style as ‘messily creative’.

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Picture This: A Visit With Mary McNear

Today’s post by debut novelist, Mary McNear |

Mary McNearMy first novel, Up at Butternut Lake, is the story of Allie, a young woman whose husband has been killed in Afghanistan, and her five year old son, Wyatt. Together they move to Allie’s family’s long-deserted fishing cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota where they try to start over. The location, Butternut Lake, is fictional, but it is very much inspired by my memories of Lake Owen, a real lake in northwestern Wisconsin, where I spent my childhood summers. My great grandfather built a house on Lake Owen during the depression, and while it has since been divided among countless Aunts and Uncles and cousins, I still spend a couple of weeks there every summer with my mother, my sisters, and all our children. It is a beautiful and pristine place where we spend the days fishing off the dock, puttering around in ancient motorboats, jumping into icy water, and listening to the loons calling out over the water late at night. The image of the lake, and the many photographs I’ve collected over the years, were never far from my thoughts when I was working on Up at Butternut Lake, and the two subsequent books in this trilogy.

This is a photo of my mother and me, my sister and my cousin on the dock at our lake house in the late 1960s. We spent hours sitting on that dock, dangling our feet in the water, reading, swimming, and watching the sunset.

Mary McNear photo 1 for She Reads

This photograph from 2013 is a recent view of the lake, the boathouse, and the dock taken from the deck off the back of the cabin.

Mary McNear photo 2 for She Reads

As I followed the characters in Up At Butternut Lake over the course of a single summer as they found friendship and hope and love, it was always against a backdrop of blue water and towering pine trees. When I finished this book I decided I wanted to write a series of books with Butternut Lake as the backdrop.

* * *

Up At Butternut LakeIn the tradition of Kristin Hannah and Susan Wiggs, Mary McNear introduces readers to the town of Butternut Lake and to the unforgettable people who call it home.

It’s summer, and after ten years away, Allie Beckett has returned to her family’s cabin beside tranquil Butternut Lake, where as a teenager she spent so many carefree days. She’s promised her five-year-old son, Wyatt, they will be happy there. She’s promised herself this is the place to begin again after her husband’s death in Afghanistan. The cabin holds so many wonderful memories, but from the moment she crosses its threshold Allie is seized with doubts. Has she done the right thing uprooting her little boy from the only home he’s ever known?

Allie and her son are embraced by the townsfolk, and her reunions with old acquaintances—her friend Jax, now a young mother of three with one more on the way, and Caroline, the owner of the local coffee shop—are joyous ones. And then there are newcomers like Walker Ford, who mostly keeps to himself—until he takes a shine to Wyatt . . . and to Allie.

Everyone knows that moving forward is never easy, and as the long, lazy days of summer take hold, Allie must learn to unlock the hidden longings of her heart, and to accept that in order to face the future she must also confront—and understand—what has come before.

* * *

Mary McNear lives in San Francisco with her husband, two teenage children, and a high-strung, miniscule white dog named Macaroon. Up at Butternut Lake, the first book in the Butternut Lake trilogy, is her debut novel. She based this series on a lifetime of summers spent on Lake Owen, in Northerwestern Wisconsin.

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What Our Kids Are Reading–AND–What We’re Reading To Our Kids

Today’s post by She Reads co-founders Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I am of the opinion that one of my jobs as a mom is to supply my children with good reading material, whether that is checking out books at the library, making sure they have their ereaders loaded, or taking a trip to the local indie bookstore to discover a new favorite, I am constantly on the prowl.

For my 8-year-old daughter, I have endeavored to find her some gutsy, outspoken girls to go on literary adventures with. Girls whose company she will both learn from and enjoy. True characters who are not perfect, but who learn a bit with each new chapter. Girls who, I like to think, are like her.

She’s devoured the following series, all of which she can read and enjoy on her own. And enjoy them, she does!

Whatever After. Violet Mackerel. Clementine. Marty McGuire. Kylie Jean. Heidi Heckelbeck. Stella Batts. Nancy Clancy.

Annaleise Books

If you’re looking to delight your daughter with some feisty heroines, these are great girls to start with.

* * *

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

What I’m reading to my kids: WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams.

Why I’m reading it: My mother read it to me and it’s one of my fondest childhood memories.

What it’s about: “A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for more than forty years, Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time. Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.” — In layman’s terms, it’s about RABBITS. Yes, rabbits. And truly, it’s wonderful.

watership downThe response so far: butts up. (The Wild Rumpus’ version of thumbs up. Let’s be real, little boys use every chance they can to communicate with their butts. THIS is the challenge I face in turning a pack of wild hoodlums into thoughtful, literate humans.)

They will (probably) be assigned this book in high school, so why read it to them now? A few reasons, really. First, they still want me to read to them and I will take advantage of that as long as I can. And if I’m doing the reading then I will read something that I enjoy. Selfish? I don’t think so. Passion–especially passion for reading–is caught, not taught. And when my boys see that I love a novel they end up loving it too. Second, there are some novels that were really meant to be read out loud. THE HOBBIT is one. WATERSHIP DOWN is another. There’s something about the rhythm and cadence of the words that just feels right when you hear it. Or at least how I remember feeling as a child. There is danger and loyalty and hope and adventure in this novel and when read aloud by a skilled storyteller it’s simply…magic.

Question for you: what are you reading to your kids (grandkids, nieces, or nephews) these days? What books are they reading on their own?

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Picture This: A Visit With Lynn Cullen

Today’s post by bestselling author Lynn Cullen | @LynnCullenBooks

It could only happen to Poe.

Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen

Who else but the father of the mysterious and the macabre would be the victim of the worst smear job in literary history?

We all know the creepy side of Edgar Allan Poe. Aided by t-shirts, coffee mugs, and the covers of his own books, we picture a man as frightening as the characters in his stories. Even in his own time, people confused him with the tormented narrator of that most famous of spooky bird poems. Flocks of boys followed him down the street, flapping their arms and cawing. Fans all across the U.S. intoned to each other, “Nevermore.” The man himself was often introduced simply as “The Raven.’

Yet our cherished popular image of Poe as the dangerous madman of literature is as much a fantasy as anything that ever came from his pen. It comes to us courtesy of Poe’s arch-rival in real-life, Rufus Griswold, a fellow poet and critic who, in a bizarre twist of fate, became the executor of Poe’s literary papers.

Backed by his access to Poe’s works and letters, which he gleefully doctored to fit his purposes, Griswold turned Poe into one of Poe’s own spooky characters. In spite of the dark stories for which Poe was known, this actually took some doing. The truth is, in 1845, the year Poe wrote ‘The Raven,’ and during which my novel Mrs. Poe is set, our Edgar was quite the ladies’ man.

Poe Collage

Poe, a looker. As hard as it is to believe, he was, as this watercolor said to be done from life illustrates. Accounts of both men and women from this period confirm this, as do other images from that time. The unattractive portraits that are currently so popular date from the last two years of his life, when he was in poor health, never a good time for one’s close-up. They fit perfectly with Griswold’s vilification of the man.

Frances Osgood, Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1850

Frances Osgood, Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1850

Yet in his prime, not only was Poe considered to be handsome and charming, but as one man put it, “every inch a gentleman.” His scrupulous dress and good manners were legendary. Women swooned over him. In fact, his sex appeal became his downfall. One year after he was welcomed into the top literary circles in New York City with the success of ‘The Raven,’ he was kicked out. Why? A lady-poet he had scorned, Elizabeth Ellet, got her revenge by exposing his love-letters to another married woman, Frances Osgood. After that, the already-rampant rumors of his affair with Frances Osgood could no longer be ignored. Our gentleman, now a rogue, became social poison. Maybe this is why few came to his defense when Griswold began to malign him, just after his death in 1849.

I wrote Mrs. Poe to bring the author’s image more in line with the true Edgar Allan Poe. I hope to prove that while our Edgar was no angel, neither was he a devil. He was, at his core, just an orphan looking for love. I like to think that for one glorious year, in Frances Osgood, he found it.

* * *

Mrs. Poe1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime.  Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledging career.

Although not a great fan of Poe’s writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence—and the surprising revelation that he admires her work.  What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair…and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover.

But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself.

Much like The Paris Wife, MRS. POE combines literary fiction with reimagined historical drama; much like Poe himself, Lynn Cullen captures his mysterious and macabre tone. While providing a voyeuristic peek into the heart and mind one of the history’s most fascinating literary figures, Cullen explores the themes of artistic expression, social standing in the 1800s, and the self-ownership of women.

* * *

About the author: Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named one of the best fiction books of the year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and Reign of Madness, nominated for the Townsend Prize for fiction. She is also the author of numerous award-winning children’s books, including I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter. An avid traveler and historian, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Book Review: ALIAS HOOK by Lisa Jensen

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy.

AliasHookSometimes a book finds you at exactly the right moment. Or, in my case, the right season of life. My particular life is filled with a tribe of wild little boys. I call them the Wild Rumpus and they might not be as unruly as Peter Pan and his Lost Boys, but still, the resemblance is startling some days. So it was not a stretch for me to read Lisa Jensen’s new rendering of the classic Peter Pan and see that the children themselves could be the villains. Pernicious, selfish little creatures hell bent on destruction. And really, what a brilliant treatment of the story: Neverland painted very much like Lord of the Flies.

I loved this book. And not just because the premise is genius or because the writing is clean and clever, but because Lisa Jensen has taken a beloved children’s story and so completely turned it on its ear. Captain Hook as the underdog? Captain Hook falling in love? Captain Hook helpless against a pack of dirty, ragged, flying boys? Yes please!

The truth of childhood is that little boys dance a fine line between wonder and wickedness. I suppose little girls do as well–I just have no experience on that front. But boys? Yes. As my mother says: boys are like dogs, they do things in packs they would never do by themselves. And in ALIAS HOOK, the pack of little boys led by Peter Pan is violent, vengeful, and not a little bit scary. Captain Hook himself is no saint. But neither is he the storybook villain we’ve been led to believe. He’s complicated and charming and two hundred years (or more, who really knows in the timeless world of Neverland) into a purgatory specially designed to torment him.

Then a fully grown woman appears in Neverland against the specific orders of Peter Pan and she not only sees the humanity in our good Captain Hook but enables him to see it as well. This is not a fairy tale for children but my goodness, what a joy it was for this adult to read. After finishing the final pages I climbed out of bed to check on my children, to tuck them in one last time, and offer a prayer of gratitude that Neverland is not a real place after all.

But then again, that’s exactly what adults are supposed to believe.

ALIAS HOOK doesn’t release until July 8th but you can add it to your Goodreads list or preorder it now. You won’t be sorry either way.

About the book:

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain. 

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale perfect for fans of Gregory Maguire and Paula Brackston.

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