Tag Archives | Marybeth Whalen

Say “I Do” To These Titles (A Roundup of Wedding-Themed Novels)

One thing we noticed as we previewed upcoming summer titles– a lot of us have weddings on our mind! If you’re a fan of Four Weddings or Say Yes To The Dress, are prone to buying bridal magazines in bulk or have multiple Pinterest boards dedicated to wedding ideas,  then we’ve got some titles you’re sure to love this summer!

The EngagementsThe Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

(This book made news recently when  Reese Witherspoon optioned it for film– so read it before it becomes a movie!)

From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. 

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever. ” And that line changes everything.
A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.

Chose the Wrong GuyChose The Wrong Guy, Gave Him The Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison

At twenty-one, Ashley Barton was on her way to the altar to marry Burke Morrison, her high school sweetheart, when something derailed her. Rather, someone derailed her—another man who at the last minute begged her to reconsider the marriage. He told her that Burke had been cheating on her. For a long time. And on top of that, he loved her more than Burke, and claimed he would treat her better than Burke ever could. Ashley, stunned, hurt, and confused, struggled with the obligation of fulfilling her guests’ expectations—providing a wedding—and running for her life.
She chose running. With the best man. Who happened to be Burke’s brother, Frank.
This relationship doesn’t work either. How could it, when Ashley had been engaged to, in love with, Frank’s brother? Ashley opts for neither, and, instead, spends the next seventeen years working in her family’s Middleburg, Virginia, bridal shop, Talk of the Gown, where she subconsciously does penance for the disservice she did to marriage.

But when the two men return to town for another wedding old anger, hurt, and passion resurface. Just because you’ve traded the good guy for the bad guy for no guy doesn’t mean you have to stay away from love for the rest of your life, does it?

The Best ManThe Best Man by Kristan Higgins

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief—and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

The Week Before the WeddingThe Week Before The Wedding by Beth Kendrick

After enduring a chaotic childhood, Emily McKellips yearns for a drama-free life, complete with a white picket fence. Her dreams are about to come true: She has a stellar career, a gorgeous house, and a fiancé any woman would die for. But as friends and family arrive in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, for her wedding, an uninvited guest shows up.

Ryan is Emily’s first husband from a disastrous starter marriage. They wed on a whim, only to discover that combustible chemistry couldn’t ensure a happily ever after. But Ryan is no longer the headstrong boy she left behind. He’s now a successful film producer who just happens to be scouting a resort in Valentine with his adorable retriever in tow.

As the bridesmaids revolt and the mothers of the bride and groom do battle, Emily is surprised to discover new sides of both her ex and her fiancé. She thought she had life and love all figured out, but the next seven days might change her mind—and her heart.

Wedding NightWedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.

Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

Beautiful DayBeautiful Day by Elin Hildebrand

The Carmichaels and the Grahams have gathered on Nantucket for a wedding. Plans are being made according to the wishes of the bride’s late mother, who left behind The Notebook: specific instructions for every detail of her youngest daughter’s future nuptials. Everything should be falling into place for the beautiful event–but in reality, things are far from perfect.

While the couple-to-be are quite happy, their loved ones find their own lives crumbling. In the days leading up to the wedding, love will be questioned, scandals will arise, and hearts will be broken and healed. Elin Hilderbrand takes readers on a touching journey in BEAUTIFUL DAY–into the heart of marriage, what it means to be faithful, and how we choose to honor our commitments.

And if you’ve got room in your beach bag for one more novel, I (ahem) have a wedding themed novel as well. Check out recent posts on this blog to learn more about The Wishing Tree!

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The Wishing Tree Soundtrack

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

Marybeth Whalen

I always listen to music when I write. I have a Pandora station that inspires  a reaction  like Pavlov’s dog– I hear that music and my mind thinks, “Write!”

With my new book, The Wishing Tree, I had a soundtrack that went with the book, a collection of songs that meant something to the characters; songs that encapsulated the range of emotions they experienced as the events of the book played out. I thought today I would share some of those songs with you, to give you a better idea of what the book is about. And maybe inspire you to check out the book that inspired the soundtrack. Or was it the other way around?

Back To December by Taylor Swift:

This was Ivy and Michael’s song. If you listen to it (and read the book), I think you’ll agree.

Everything You Want by Vertical Horizon:

Ok, so this is one of my running songs. But during the time that I was writing the  book I would run and think about how this song best describes Ivy and Elliott’s relationship. Michael said all of the right things at exactly the right time. And yet, he meant nothing to her, but she didn’t know why.


If He Should Break Your Heart by Journey:

A perfect encapsulation of what Michael felt for Ivy back when they broke up. If you don’t know it, listen to it. I suspect I will always think of Michael’s broken heart whenever I hear this song from now on.


Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye:

This is the song I thought of as I wrote the parts where Michael was over Ivy. He was confident and in charge, and I was happy for him. Ivy is now just somebody that he used to know.

The Man Who Can’t Be Moved by The Script:

My husband is a huge Script fan, which means I’ve listened to them a lot. This is one of their songs that I actually have on my own iPod. To me this song describes Elliott. Even though he’s not physically sitting on a corner, he stakes out his own little corner of the internet via Twitter and begins broadcasting his apology to his wife when she won’t listen, hoping that he’ll wear her down. He’s not moving.


Leaving Me Now by Level 42:

One morning while I was writing this book I woke up and thought of this song– an old song from my teen years that I hadn’t thought of in a very long time. I found it and played it and was surprised by how fitting it was for the scene when Ivy leaves after learning of Elliott’s betrayal. The despondency communicated by this song to me fits how Elliott feels as he watches her go. Does she come back? Should she? Or does she decide to go back to Michael?



Well, now, I guess you’ll just have to read the book…

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Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Marybeth Whalen

Update: We’re delighted to announce that the winner of this giveaway is ANN ELLISON. She has been notified via email. Thanks to all who entered and don’t forget to come back soon. We have a number of giveaways lined up for the future.  

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

Marybeth Whalen

My new book has many of the elements I love to see in a novel– the beach, a wedding, and baked goods. I didn’t set out for those elements to be in the book, they just emerged as I thought through what this novel would look like. In some ways I feel that my stories are already there, in their entirety, long before I start thinking about them. I just have to wait for them to reveal themselves, piece by piece.

Once I knew that a bakery was going to be part of this novel, I had to do the best kind of research. I contacted the real Seaside Bakery at Sunset Beach, NC where the book is set (the owner so graciously allowed me to name my fictional bakery the same name) and asked the owner, Carolyn, if she’d mind if I dropped by. She did me one better– inviting me and my family to come to her bakery for a full wedding cake tasting like she puts on for brides. That experience– tasting all the yummy cake, filling and frosting flavor combinations to our hearts’ content– became a scene in the novel. And an experience our family will never forget.

My children, incidentally, think a bakery should be part of every book I ever write, from now on.

The Seaside Bakery in my book is not the real Seaside Bakery– it is a combination of the bakery I visited at Sunset Beach and the bakery I visited near my home, incorporating the unique things each place offered and creating a place that was truly fictional. The owner of the bakery in my book, the main character Ivy’s Aunt Leah, is nothing like the two bakery owners who opened their doors to me. Except for the fact that all three women love bringing smiles to people’s face through the magic of flour, sugar, butter all working together to create something sweet. In some ways, I am like these women. I hope that the magic of character, setting, and story work together to  add a little sweetness  to your summer in my book, The Wishing Tree.

* * *

Savvy, determined Ivy Marshall discovers that her husband has cheated on her on the very same day her sister’s perfect boyfriend proposes on national television. When Ivy’s mother asks her to return to her family’s beach home to plan her sister’s upcoming wedding, she decides to use the excuse to escape from the pain of her broken heart. When her return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, brings Ivy face to face with her former fiance, old feelings are rekindled and she wonders if there is a future for them. However, when Ivy refuses to talk to her husband, he resorts to tweeting to her, expressing his remorse and making it clear he doesn’t want to give up on their marriage. As she helps prepare the wishing tree for her sister’s wedding, she must examine her dreams for her own future and what true love should be.

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Audio Book Review: Love, Anthony by Lisa Genova

Last night at 1:00 am I finished listening to Love, Anthony on audio. I had been listening to it in my car as I drove around doing errands but I was working on a project indoors and decided to bring the cd’s inside so I could play them while I worked. My computer worked fine to play the cd on and pulled double duty after I finished my project and turned to Pinterest. I pinned away as the story progressed. An enjoyable Sunday afternoon elapsed as I steadily worked away and Debra Messing read a story to me. The words pleasant and cozy come to mind.

A few thoughts on this particular audio book:

Debra Messing was a delightful narrator. I searched to see if she’d done any other books but alas, she has not. Here’s hoping she does in the future. I honestly think her voice made the book better.

This was my first Lisa Genova book. Known for her extensive knowledge of anything neurological related, she’s made a name for herself with her books about a woman struggling with alzheimers (Still Alice) and a woman struggling with the loss of awareness on her left side (Left Neglected).  That I knew. What I didn’t know was that she humanizes those rather clinical diagnoses– delving into the  range of emotions that come with these afflictions. She explores the way neurological impairments affect our relationships and self image, our outlook for the future and our interpretation of the past.

Or at least that is what she did  with Love, Anthony, the story of two women who are inexplicably linked by a dead boy who had autism. One woman is his mother.  The other  is a woman who spotted him on  a  Nantucket beach and was forever changed by this brief encounter. Both women are dealing with major changes and loss in their lives and learning to cope, each in her own way. The way that  these two women’s lives come together is part of the story… and the reason why I was up until 1:00  am. I wanted to see how Genova was going to “bring it on home.”

And speaking of home, that was the other element about this story that I wanted to note. The setting of Nantucket is a vital part of this story. The isolation of the residents in the dead of winter. The pecking order of this established  place steeped in history. The exhilaration combined with chaos that comes with the dawn of summer– and the arrival of tourists. The way the place defines both the locals and the visitors spoke to me and drew me further into the story.

The question that threads through the story is “Why was Anthony here?” How could this brief, limited life have meaning? And I’ll be honest, for most of the book I didn’t know the answer to that question. But Genova did and I’m glad she revealed it to us. If you have been touched by autism I highly recommend this book. Or if you just enjoy a story about women’s relationships set in an intriguing place, this might be a good fit for you. And if Debra Messing reads it to you, all the better.

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A Moment With Our Founders

Today’s post from our co-founders, Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon

There’s only so much you can know about a girl by her preference in books so we decided to crack the door a bit and give you a glimpse into our personal lives and peculiar oddities. It’s a toss-up whether you’ll be entertained or scared away.

Marybeth Whalen

What’s going on at your house: I’m in denial about those back to school commercials on tv and school supplies taking centerstage at the local Target. Summer is my favorite season and I really hate to think of it ending for another year. In the meantime, we’ve got another few weeks of days in the sun at the pool, sleeping in, and the slower pace of summer that I love. And I intend to savor every moment. We’ve got our 21st anniversary and two of our kids’ birthdays this month. So it will be a little busy.

What’s the last song you bought on iTunes: “Come Over” by Kenny Chesney. None of my children can believe that I actually bought a country song voluntarily. I’ve actually bought two this summer. I also bought “Springsteen” by Eric Church. I blame it on the fact that our good ole southern neighborhood pool blasts country music over the loud speakers so I’ve been forced to reckon with it. And admit that there are some songs (very few) that I actually like.

One lame fact about you: I can’t sleep unless I have perfect hospital corners on my bed.

Any weird food preferences or aversions: I have been known to dip my dill pickle in ketchup. Sweet and sour– what’s not to like? And also, I don’t eat cheese. Of any kind.

Bad habits: Launching spit bubbles off my tongue. It might impress (and simultaneously horrify) my kids, but it doesn’t exactly go over well in public.

My four swim team swimmers celebrating their championship season

Ariel Lawhon

What’s going on at your house: We just got back from the beach (a million thanks to my in-laws who rented a house and invited our crew to join them!) and we’re getting ready to move back to Tennessee. What this means is that in addition to all the normal activities starting up again (school, swim team, etc.) we will have to put our house on the market, pack, and move across country. We’re so ready to live close to family again but lugging four children, all of our worldly belongings, and a shedding dog over eight hundred miles in one day isn’t exactly my idea of fun.

What’s the last song you bought on iTunes: “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. (Maybe I needed a compliment that day. Who knows.)

One lame fact about you: I end every workout with “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Yep, I’m an 80’s child through and through.

Any weird food preferences or aversions: I could drink balsamic vinegar straight from the bottle.

Bad habits: I eat ice. So bad for the teeth!

The men in my life, picture ready and in love with the beach.

Your turn! Answer any of the above questions and let us know a bit about you!

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How I Write A Novel

Everyone writes a novel differently. This is my process and it is by no means the right way to do it. It’s just what I’ve found works for me.

Step 1) I get an idea. Or a character starts talking to me. Or I think of a title.

Step 2) I scratch down whatever comes to mind. This scratching begins an ongoing documentation as I capture the elements of this particular story as it emerges. This includes character’s names, locations, unique aspects, plot twists, random bits of dialogue, what the main character wants, any themes I want to dig into, etc. (This can go on for months or years.)

Step 3) Once enough has emerged and I begin to feel like I’ve got something worth working with, I take a legal pad and brainstorm everything possible that I think might happen in this story. Per one of my writing mentors, Susan Meissner’s advice, I try to have 40 things.

Step 4) I walk away from that list and see what happens—what my subconscious does with those items.

Step 5) I write down whatever from that list has made the cut—and anything else that has come up in the interim—on index cards. I like index cards because they can be moved around. This becomes my scene list and will be what I work with from now on.

Step 6) I start writing. I write in order, start to finish. There has been only one time I got out of order and that was when I was really sad one day and didn’t feel like writing anything happy. So I flipped ahead til I found a sad scene and wrote that. Ideally, I write 1000 words per day for 90 days and at the end of that time, I’ve got a rough draft.

Step 7) I read over this rough draft and make many, many corrections and changes. This goes on for as long as I have until the manuscript is due.

Step 8) When I’ve looked at the document so much I can no longer see it anymore, I press send and, through the miracle of the internet, send my manuscript winging its way to the office of my editor. I try to be happy, take a break from writing, and not immediately jump into another project, though by then several other ideas are usually begging for my attention.

Marybeth’s third novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s featured novel. We’re giving away a number of prizes so don’t forget to toss your name in the hat if you haven’t entered.

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The Guest Book Soundtrack

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

Marybeth Whalen

One of the things I most love to read about when I read about authors’ work is the music that inspired or sustained them as they wrote. So far in my writing, each of my books has gained a theme song along the way—a song that I listened to often to help me get into the spirit of the story. In fact, that’s one of my benchmark moments in my writing process: when I realize I have a theme song for the novel.

For anyone who knows me, you already know of my sincere and devoted love of 80’s music. So when I’m writing I’m usually listening to at least some 80’s music. And my 80’s taste tends towards the lesser-known songs. None of that overplayed pop music for me. I like the songs no one remembers.

One band that I listened to all through the 80’s was Icehouse, an Australian band I discovered as a teenager in a music store in 1985. In 1988 Icehouse had their biggest commercial US success with a song called Electric Blue, a single from the album Man Of Colours. It was the title track from that album that became the theme song of The Guest Book. A few lines from the lyrics served as the epigraph for the book:

He says I keep my life in this paintbox
I keep your face in this picture frame
When I speak to this faded canvas, it tells me
We have no need for words anyway.

So here is the video of Man Of Colours, a song that tells a story itself. A bit of trivia before you watch it: The old man in the video is the lead singer of Icehouse, Iva Davies’, father, a fact that makes me like the song—and Icehouse—all the more.


Marybeth’s latest novel, THE GUEST BOOK, is this month’s featured book club selection and as a way to celebrate we’re giving away a number of prizes including a trip for two to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, handcrafted sea glass jewelry, and organic soap from Southern Soap Factory. Read this post for entry details.

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The Backstory Of The Story

I’ve told this story a few times now on various blogs, so forgive me if you’ve already heard the tale of how The Guest Book came to be. But it’s a story I like, one that shows the values of readers interacting with books and authors, which is what we celebrate here at She Reads every day. So I’m going to share it here.

I received a letter in response to my first novel, The Mailbox, a story about a mysterious mailbox on the coast of North Carolina that united two people over time and against the odds. The reader wanted to tell me how much the book meant to her, and to share that reading the story brought back memories of her girlhood days spent at her grandmother’s lake house. She wrote that her grandmother had a guest book in the lake house and that it was customary for the family members who vacationed there to leave a message about what they’d done and enjoyed in their time there, connecting the family members to each other via this simple little book. She shared that when she was very little—too small to write words, her father had encouraged her to draw a picture instead, reminding her that pictures could communicate as much as words.

Instantly an image filled my head—the little blonde girl bent intently over the guest book, endeavoring to make her drawing the best, to say all that she could about a wonderful vacation in this one drawing. But the little girl in my head wasn’t alone. She had this loving father standing in the background, watching proudly as she drew. In that moment, The Guest Book was born.

The other elements—Macy’s prayer, the three men showing up in answer, the final scene, her daughter and mom and brother—all emerged slowly, as I waited patiently for them to. I love this quote from author Andre Dubus about letting the elements emerge: “There’s a profound difference between making something up and imagining it. Imagining it instead is falling into your psyche, your imagination, and finding something that’s already there that wants to come out—instead of you pushing it into the world. “

I am so happy that reader wrote me and shared her story, because her story morphed into Macy’s story. A story I was surprised by, yet so happy to find.

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A Table Of Her Own – The Writing Space of Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth’s Table At Panera

Last month, Kimberly Brock talked about being a traveling writer, an itinerant creative who writes wherever she can find a quiet spot. That would be true of me as well. With six kids and a husband who works from home, the idea of an office is a luxury. I do have a closet, though, if that counts. I’ll never forget when my husband told me he was giving me that closet to do with as I pleased right after we moved in. I don’t think he’s ever given me a nicer gift. I do love that closet.

Recently I did a Q&A at a library and one of the participants asked me where I write. Without batting an eye, I said, “On my bed.” They all laughed like I’d told a joke. But I was serious. I sit on my bed with pillows propping me up and my laptop perched on my lap and type away. It might not be glamorous. I may not have some gorgeous, inspiring view. I may not have framed book covers and news clippings surrounding me and encouraging me to press on. But I have my computer and– by hook or by crook– I’ve  found a place to write.

For this post, I shared a photo of my favorite corner at Panera, a local eatery where I can go write when life gets too noisy and  crazy  at the Whalens. I’ve also used the library, the cafe in Barnes and Noble, and the front seat of my car. The desperate can not be too proud. The point, I’ve found, is not the where. It’s the what. What am I writing? What’s my word count goal for that day? What is my character struggling with?

When I focus on the what, the where doesn’t matter at all. I can write through a child jumping on and off my bed, constant interruptions, and a ringing phone. I can write through loud conversations at nearby tables, the acrid scent of burned bagels, and the endless beeping of cash registers. With a good set of headphones and Pandora, I’m good to go. In all my wandering, I  have found a place to write. It might not be perfect, but somehow, it works.

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Summer Reading Roundup

Summer is synoymous with F-U-N to me. Which means the books I want in my beach or pool bag must be fun. Maybe delving into deep issues, maybe not. Maybe written by old favorites or maybe by a new, promising talent. Maybe set at the beach, or maybe on the steamy streets of a city I’ve always wanted to visit. Whatever they’re about, whoever they’re by, they need to transport me just the same as if I’d gone on an actual vacation. Below are some books that fit that bill:

The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier. How well do we know our friends? Even our best friends? And what if we lost our best friend, only to discover she kept detailed journals all her life– journals that reveal secrets about her? Would our view of her stay the same? And how would we make peace with the woman we knew and the woman we didn’t? This book answers those questions in a fun summer setting.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth’s journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.

The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.

The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri. A man who may or may not be a selkie? This book and the mystery surrounding it totally tapped into my love of mermaids and all things mysterious about the sea. Add some ruminating on marriage and motherhood and you’ve got a fine literary experience to mix with the sea air and salt water.

Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke’s Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades—not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt’s friend Polly suggests, a selkie—a mythical being of island legend—summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes. This one went in my pool bag as soon as it arrived. It was delicious!

Anita Hughes’ Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman’s journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and life—what it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

The Garden Of Happy Endings by Barbara O’Neal. A woman in a crisis of faith. A community garden that draws people together. A relationship between sisters that features all the nuances of complications you might expect. For those who aren’t into all the beachy kind of books, this one offers a nice alternative– especially if you have a green thumb, or, like me, just wish you had one.

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.

Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore. I read her book The Arrivals last summer poolside. If you didn’t read that one, it’s out in paperback this summer and worth picking up. I’m looking forward to this one and believe Meg Mitchell Moore to be a true talent. This premise appeals to me perhaps even more than The Arrivals!

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents’ ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. Adrift, confused, she is a girl trying to find her way in a world that seems to either neglect or despise her. Her salvation arrives in an unlikely form: Bridget O’Connell, an Irish maid working for a wealthy Boston family. The catch? Bridget lives only in the pages of a dusty old 1920s diary Natalie unearthed in her mother’s basement. But the life she describes is as troubling – and mysterious – as the one Natalie is trying to navigate herself, almost a century later.

I am writing this down because this is my story. There were only ever two people who knew my secret, and both are gone before me.

Who was Bridget, and what became of her?  

Natalie escapes into the diary, eager to unlock its secrets, and reluctantly accepts the help of library archivist Kathleen Lynch, a widow with her own painful secret: she’s estranged from her only daughter. Kathleen sees in Natalie traces of the daughter she has lost, and in Bridget, another spirited young woman at risk.

What could an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? As the troubles of a very modern world close in around them, and Natalie’s torments at school escalate, the faded pages of Bridget’s journal unite the lonely girl and the unhappy widow – and might even change their lives forever.

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