Tag Archives | Susan Meissner

Picture This: A Visit With Susan Meissner

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

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

Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

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

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

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

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

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


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A Trip To Old New York: Four Novels That Will Take You Back In Time

Old New York is one of the most compelling periods in history. It’s magical. A time of grit and glamour, populated by iconic characters and unforgettable moments. It’s no wonder storytellers regularly mine the speakeasies and theaters, workhouses and brothels of this era for inspiration. And today we’re featuring four new, distinct novels, all them different in tone and content, but linked by this one period of history. So add these books to your reading pile. You won’t be sorry.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things


(Publisher’s summary) Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century.

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie.

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

Belle Cora

BELLE CORA by Phillip Margulies

(Publisher’s summary) “I had crossed all the lines they you say you can never cross without being destroyed, and here I was, alive and strong.”

In the grand tradition of Moll Flanders and Vanity Fair, this is the story of a good girl who became a bad woman. At the old homestead her name is never spoken and her picture is turned to the wall, but in the vast world beyond everyone remembers her as the celebrated madam of the finest parlor house in San Francisco. Now, at the end of her life, after half a century of successfully hiding the details of her scarlet past, Belle has decided to reveal all her secrets.

In 1838, Arabella Godwin and her beloved younger brother, Lewis, are orphaned and shipped away from their home in New York City to live on their aunt’s desolate farm upstate. The comforts she has always known are replaced with grueling work and a pair of cunning enemies in her cousins Agnes and Matthew. Amid this bleak existence, there emerges light in the form of a local boy, Jeptha Talbot.  He is everything good that Arabella craves. His love saves her and becomes an obsession that will last her whole life.

Time and again she will be broken and remade. She will bear a gambler’s child, build a fortune, commit murder, leave a trail of aliases in her wake and sacrifice almost everything—though perhaps not enough–for the man whose love she cannot bear to lose.  At last her destiny will take her to Gold Rush California, to riches and power.

Until the day she mysteriously disappears.

Told with unflagging wit and verve, Belle Cora brings to life a turbulent era and an untamed America on the cusp of greatness. Its heroine is a woman in conflict with her time, who nevertheless epitomizes it with her fighting spirit, her gift for self-invention, and her determination to chart her own fate.

A Fall Of Marigolds

A FALL OF MARIGOLDS by Susan Meissner

(Publisher’s summary) A beautiful scarf, passed down through the generations, connects two women who learn that the weight of the world is made bearable by the love we give away….

September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries…and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made. Will what she learns devastate her or free her?

September 2011. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers…the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection and a century-old scarf open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?

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(Publisher’s summary) A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930—Justice Joseph Crater’s infamous disappearance—as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

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The Past Always Speaks

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

It’s no secret that we adore Susan Meissner around here. We’ve chosen her novels the last three years as book club picks. And we couldn’t resist the opportunity to share her newest, The Girl In The Glass, with you. We know you’ll want to read it, so we’ve got a copy up for grabs. Simply leave a comment on this post and we’ll toss your name in the hat.

Susan Meissner on a research trip to Florence

I am often asked where I got the idea for a novel I’ve written. Many times I can point to a specific event where the idea sprang to mind; other times I can’t recall that I had anything more work to with than just asking myself the question, “What if…? ”

The idea behind The Girl in The Glass is one of those that grew from the tiniest seed. I guess you could say it began on a sunny afternoon in Florence, Italy, when my tour guide told me she lives in a house that was once owned by Michelangelo — yep, the Michelangelo — and that it seems like a ghost inhabits it. Things happen that can’t really be explained, she said. Noises. Objects that disappear and reappear. Stuff like that.

It was fleeting moment of discussion during lunch and we only had the one day with her and plenty to see, of course, so she didn’t elaborate. She wasn’t suggesting she lives with Michelangelo’s ghost nor even suggesting that ghosts exist. Only that it seems like she lives with one.

Right after lunch, this same tour guide showed us the massive Uffizi, the former offices of the Medici family and now a museum of jaw-dropping art. She carefully pointed out all Medici portraits and told us what each of them had done — or what had been done to them, as the case might have been. The Medicis, if you remember, ruled Florence dynasty-fashion for three hundred years. They were business owners and bankers who ruled like royalty but behaved, for the most part, very badly. They were known for their ruthless shrewdness, self-serving politicking, and they weren’t above a murder or two or using the papacy for their own ends. And yet they financed the Italian Renaissance. We have Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Primavera because of Medici money. They loved beauty and yet were drawn to ugly living. That fascinated me. Add that perspective to the idea that a ghost might be hanging around like Jacob Marley, whispering sage advice to someone who would listen, and I had an idea for a story that began in Florence with “What if? ”

What if a modern-day woman named Meg feels a bit unlucky in love and life? What if she is still smarting from a broken engagement as well as the long-ago effects of her parents divorce? What if she wants more than anything to find a certain statue in Florence depicted in a painting her Italian grandmother had; a painting that disappeared when Nonna died? What if Meg’s habitually unreliable father, who has promised for years to take Meg to Florence, finally arranges the trip, but when Meg arrives, he’s a no-show? What if Meg is a travel book editor who only knows three people in Florence who can help her when her dad’s AWOL? A brother-and-sister writing team she’s only ever talked to on Skype, and an aspiring writer named Sofia whose manuscript pages speak of a Medici princess who whispers to Sofia from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance like a ghost with a cautionary tale?

This story didn’t come all at once, like some stories do. This one came bit by bit as I pored over my photographs and souvenir books of Florence, and as I replayed conversations with the tour guide who told me all about the Medici family and the curious things that happen inside her house. It just got me to thinking…

Someone might read this post or even read the book and think I believe in ghosts. What I believe is that the past has much to teach us. I look at how most of the Medicis lived and I know I am right. How we listen to the past is up to us, I think.

I like listening to the past through the medium of story.

Don’t you?

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She and her husband make their home in Southern California. Visit Susan at her website: www.susanmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/SusanMeissnerAuthor


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November Book Club Selection

Congratulations to Nancy S. Connelly, winner of the quilted Civil War table runner and copy of Susan’s novel! We have notified Nancy via e-mail.


If you’re stopping by after reading Susan’s devotion with Proverbs 31 Ministries today, welcome! If you’re a regular, checking in to see what novel we’ve selected this month, welcome back! Either way we’re glad you’re here.


Three years ago I read my first Susan Meissner novel. It was a gripping story called The Shape of Mercy and I was a devoted fan by the time I turned the last page. She Reads has featured every one of Susan’s novels since. A Sound Among the Trees is her latest release and it is this month’s featured book club selection.


The setting for Susan’s novel is Holly Oak, a Southern plantation steeped in history and secrets. Keeping that southern atmosphere in mind, this month’s giveaway is this Civil War Farmhouse Table Runner and a copy of A Sound Among the Trees courtesy of Waterbrook Press. To toss your name in the hat leave a comment on this post:


This month's giveaway: a Civil War table runner


But fret not, even though we only have one main prize, two additional readers will each receive a copy of Susan’s novel. You can enter to win by signing up for our free monthly e-newsletter.


We will be discussing A Sound Among the Trees all month on our online discussion forum. If you don’t have local book club or if you’d like to interact with other readers would you consider joining? There is no charge and you can participate at your leisure. And because we’re all about encouraging book addiction here at She Reads, we’re giving away another prize to one reader who participates in this month’s discussion: fifteen novels published by Waterbrook Press, including all of Susan Meissner’s. (And yes, you can enter to win all three prizes, simply follow the entry directions for each one)



A House Shrouded In Time.

A Line Of Women With A Heritage Of Loss.

As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn’t believe that Susannah’s ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.


When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband’s home, it isn’t long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.


With Adelaide’s richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak–and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.


To download the first chapter of A Sound Among the Trees click here.



Susan Meissner

Award winning writer Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and workshop leader with a background of community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Book of 2008. She is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she’s not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at her San Diego church.



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