Review: The Goodbye Cousins


Smart, fun, good weekend/summer read
The Goodbye Cousins is the second novel written by Maggie Leffler. Maggie went to medical school, while writing and rewriting (her website mentions rewriting one novel seven times over seven years). Married with two children and I can only assume juggling a very busy life!

I have been pleased with the ‘women’s lit’ I have received/read this summer – The Goodbye Cousins is another new storyline that I really enjoyed reading.

This book is about Di, who returns to 'the States' in her late twenties. She and her mom moved to Europe when she was eleven and just kept moving…. what Di didn’t know was that her Dad didn’t know where she was (she was a missing child). We follow Di as she figures out what comes next – a fun, light yet serious story.
I would pass this book along to friend to read, it's a good story.

Type: Fiction, 371 pages, trade paperback

Synopsis:
A tender, funny, effervescent novel about reconnecting cousins, family secrets, and a season of change“Your family will find you.” It was the last thing Diotima Linzer’s mother, Roxanne, ever told her. But this was the same mother who kidnapped Di when she was eleven and fled to Europe where her broken-hearted father—and the FBI—would never find them. Now a single mom herself, Di is making a belated return to the States with her two-year-old son, Max, searching for the father she lost. That means moving in temporarily with her cousin Alecia and Alecia’s fiancé, Ben, in a Pittsburgh apartment crowded with wedding gifts. If that’s not already a recipe for disaster, Di soon finds herself falling for the wealthy, handsome, “nearly divorced” father who hires her as a nanny for his troubled teenage son, while her cousin Alecia, preoccupied by her promotion to television news anchor and a prenup she hasn’t mentioned to her fiancé, has to cope with the sudden reappearance of her estranged mother—who may hold the secret to Di’s parents’ past. Suddenly these two very different cousins—one searching for direction in the universe, the other desperate to stop her well-ordered life from unraveling—are about to discover that the family they thought they’d lost may have found them instead.

Reviews:“A delightful novel: warm, wry, smart, and very funny.” – Irina Reyn, author of ‘What happened to Anna K’

Review: The Painter from Shanghai


Smart and beautifully written

Thank you to Lisa (TLC book tours) for sending me a copy of The Painter to read/review as part of her virtual book tour.

Most of you know that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres so I was very excited to have the opportunity to read this book. The Painter from Shanghai is Jennifer Cody Epstein’s first novel.

This is the story of Pan Yuliang, a famous painter from China. I didn’t know her name until reading this book and was surprised to learn about her life. When reading stories like this I often wonder how the individual had the drive to push forward, it’s quite amazing when you think of the time in history. The storyline is similar to Memoirs of a Geisha and I was reminded of The Blue Notebook when reading that Yuliang is sold into the life of prostitution.

Yuliang finds a way to survive and adjust to life as best she can when she is rescued by a man who falls in love with her. It’s only after all of this that Yuliang discovers her talent and her legacy starts to unfold.

Click here to listen to an interview
Click here to read an interview on getting published


Author Q&A:Tell us a little about yourself: I'm a Brooklyn-based writer who spent close to a decade in journalism (mostly in Asia) and now write fiction and raise my two daughters as a job...which, to be honest, I enjoy much more :) I grew up on the East Coast, have masters degrees in Fiction (Columbia's MFA program) and International Relations (Johns Hopkins). I am also an adjunct professor at Columbia.

Do you write daily? I try to!

What was it like getting your first novel published? It was amazing. I've wanted to write novels pretty much from the time I started to read fiction, and had spent so much time doing "other things" as a young adult that by the time I finally got around to doing it (in my 30's) I wasn't at all sure I could pull it off. Researching and writing Painter was a long, murky but amazing process, particularly because I had two children along the way. I honestly don't remember big chunks of it--I'll sometimes re-read the novel and think "Did I really write that??? When? How???" But the moment when I got my first copy was just magical. Not quite as intense as holding my newborns for the first time....but right up there.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I'm of a mixed mind on it. On the one hand I'm such an unabashed bibliophile that I find the concept of reading a novel without the sensory aspects of page and cover somewhat disturbing-not unlike the way I felt about switching from vinyl to CDs. There's a texture that I think goes missing. On the other hand, the switch to electronic media has made music so much more accessible to everyone that it's hard to argue it hasn't been good for the general listening public; and I do love the way I can find new songs and plug them into my playlists with the click of a mouse. I suspect that in the end, electronic books will prove to be a similar boon to both writers and readers--though personally, I'll always choose the old-fashioned variety when I can (or so I say now, when I don't have a single album left from my old collection....)

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Not to give up!! It can be an incredibly discouraging and isolating process, and you are always going to have people telling you either you can’t do it, or you are doing a lousy job. You need to build a thick skin about your work (not easy for most of us, particularly writers!) and keep in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What are you reading now? The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, and Atonement, by Ian McEwan.

Just for fun:Favorite Season: Summer
Morning or night: Night
Favorite ice cream flavor: Coffee
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Italy

Type: Historical Fiction, 408 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
Epstein's sweeping debut novel, set in early 20th-century China, fictionalizes the life of Chinese painter Pan Yuliang. Born Xiuquing, she is orphaned at a young age and later sold into prostitution by her uncle, who needs the money to support his opium habit. Renamed Yuliang, she becomes the brothel's top girl and soon snags the attention of customs inspector Pan Zanhua, who makes her his concubine. Zanhua sets her up in Shanghai, where she enrolls in the Shanghai Art Academy and early on struggles with life study, unable to separate the nude's monetary value from its value in the currency of beauty. She eventually succeeds, winning a scholarship to study in Europe. But when she returns to China, itself inching toward revolution, the conservative establishment is critical of Yuliang, balking as she adopts Western-style dress and becomes known for her nudes (one newspaper deems her work pornography). Simmering resentments hit a flashpoint at a disastrous Shanghai retrospective exhibit, and the fallout nearly destroys Yuliang's artistic ambition. Convincing historic detail is woven throughout and nicely captures the plight of women in the era. Epstein's take on Yuliang's life is captivating to the last line.

Reviews:“A luminous rendering of a woman whose work was her life.” - Booklist

“An imaginatively reconstructed life, carries an erotic charge as it lingers over descriptions of innocent beauty despoiled.” - Boston Globe

MMBC: Eating Heaven (author Q&A)

Dear Manic Mommy book club members,
I'm so delighted and honored that you chose to read Eating Heaven for your June book. Your questions are intriguing, and I hope I do justice to them in my answers here. I also have a few questions of my own below!
All best wishes, Jennie

The author says in the back of the book that this book was a rework of a piece she had abandoned and then reworked. Is this final product what she envisioned when she started reworking the book? It's so much better than I imagined it could be, because by then I'd written another book and had some actual skill and craft under my belt. I'm so glad it wasn't my first book, after all. There's a reason first novels from beginners aren't usually published! I was able to more fully develop themes and ideas and characters. And the Buddy the cat made an appearance, and I loved that she was in it.

I read that the author did research on eating disorders for the book. What was her inspiration for exploring this issue in the book? I was angry (am angry) at the way our society treats women and eating and food, and I thought one way to get at that would be to have someone suffering from it in an extreme way. I have friends and family with eating disorders, something that was VERY rare until fairly recently. I didn't hear it being talked about in a very real way anywhere else, except for sensationalist news pieces on anorexics, complete with horrifying photos. I just wanted to talk about it in a real honest way, and I didn't want to do any disservice to those dealing with it, so I talked with eating disorder doctors and a nurse, friends who binge, and read everything I could find. I even sat down to binge, on purpose, one day with cookies, my favorite food. I found I couldn't get that far into the package without naturally just stopping, and I'd always thought that if I allowed myself to binge, I would. This told me so much about the actual disorder, that it is chemical and hardwired in the brain, not something that people do just because they're greedy or weak. I can definitely be both of those things, yet I couldn't binge.

Where did the recipes come from that Ellie "made" in the story? Especially the one for "shecret shauce". I wrote and tested all of the recipes, except for Shecret Shauce, which is actually my dad's special marinade, from my childhood. I called him when I was writing the book to confirm the ingredients, and he said them the same way Ellie's dad did. I had to laugh, realizing that i'd completely stolen every detail from my dad.

I love to cook, have cooked occasionally in cafes, and have been a recipe developer, so it was a natural to include Ellie's creations for Benny.

Was Bennie the father of any of the three sisters? I kind of like to leave that up to the reader. I sprinkled a lot of clues, but as with our own parents, there are things we can just never know for sure, you know? I have a feeling that whatever you're thinking is the right answer, though.

Why did Yolonda leave Benny and never divorce him? I don't remember that they didn't divorce, but I also don't remember writing that they did, so . . . It was my intention that they were split up for good. As in divorced.

Why did Bennie and Eleanor's mother never restart their relationship? If I followed the timing correctly, it seems they had at least one opportunity to restart the relationship. By the time Bebe was in a place to be with Benny he no longer wanted her. He wanted to stay with Yolanda, so Bebe took it into her own hands and poisoned that well by telling Yolanda about she and Benny. Then Benny REALLY didn't want to be with her. He rejected her.

There are many directions for personal growth and happiness at the end of the book, yet not a perfect ending (I love that the story ends this way). If you wrote a flash forward at the end of the book, how would you see Eleanor’s life? Ah. Again, that's for the reader to decide. What do you think? I hope she's still with Henry, cooking together and enjoying each other's company. I'm a romantic.

Now, my questions, or rather, some questions I get asked by other book groups:
Just how "big" is Ellie? I really wanted to portray Ellie as the woman we all feel we are when we're not at our best. I didn't want to use any numbers or measurements, just that feeling of "too big," so that everyone could relate. You know, if you say size 16, some people will think "That's not very big," while others may think that's heavy. How big did you picture her?

Where can I find Henry? I seem to have invented many women's idea of the dream date, a man who will cook for us and make us laugh and be kind and tender, and love us no matter what size we are. He's a complete figment of my imagination, I'm sorry to say, although he has my husband's facial features and kindness, and a dear friend's sense of humor.

Review: The Help


Impactful, well written, a must read
I have wanted to read The Help since first seeing it at BN earlier this year. Book clubs are reading it, everyone is talking about it this summer.

Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. The Help is her first novel. (Source: Author website)

Quick Take: I ‘bought’ this book using one of my free credits at aubible.com and really enjoyed listening to the voices tell this story. I listened while running, walking, working, yard work etc..

This is the story of two black maids and Skeeter, who live in the south in the early 60's. Skeeter, a recent college graduate, returns home and after hearing stories she decides to submit a story to a publishing company. The book follows life in the south, high society, family illness, the black/white divide and is a coming of age story.

I found myself cheering for these women and couldn’t wait to hear the end of the story.

Click here to read an Author Q&A

Synopsis:
Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women-mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends-view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

Review: The Divorce Party


Entertaining with a twist, honest, a must read
Laura has offered two more copies of The Divorce Party. If you are interested in winning a copy, please send me an email with ‘The Divorce Party’ in the subject line along with your address. I will select a winner at random on Weds, June 17th.
Thank you Laura Dave for sending me a copy to read, and a few copies to giveaway!

This is the perfect weekend/summer book and as you will read below, I love reading books that I might see in the movie theater. I had a quiet weekend and the weather was perfect for sitting on the deck, relaxing and reading.

A quick, fast paced book about two women… Maggie is in love and excited to meet her future in-laws. She and her fiancé, Nate, head home to attend Nate’s parents ‘divorce party’. This is the perfect background to learn about the family, the secrets (so many secrets), regrets, closure and moving forward. The Divorce Party is Maggie and Gwen’s story (her future MIL). You become a character in the book as you turn the pages, wondering how it will end. You will enjoy the ending (so many books end flat, not this one).

Have you read this book? If yes (or when you do) here are some questions for you:
- Do you get along with your in-laws? Maggie is building a relationship with her future in-laws and as you read the book the author makes you feel the struggles that Maggie will face for years to come.

- Maggie learns so much about the man she is marrying the weekend of the divorce party and starts to questions herself. Would you run the other way if you were Maggie or gamble on love and the possibilities of companionship, etc?

Laura answers a few questions:

Tell us a little about yourself: I am 31 years old and am now officially a California girl. I moved to Los Angeles last August, but in many ways, I feel like I just arrived. I live with my boyfriend in West Hollywood, and am working on my new novel, which I am really enjoying. I am also co-writing a screenplay for DreamWorks with a great screenwriter named Gwyn Lurie. Gwyn is also currently adapting The Divorce Party for Universal Pictures and Jennifer Aniston. I am so excited about that!
Do you write daily?
I do. Or, I should say, I try to! I write most mornings from 8-1. It helps that I love coffee, and I write at my favorite coffee shop near my apartment. In order to get my coffee, I have to also get to work!

What was it like getting your first novel published? I have a bit of a horror story on that front. I wrote the first 200 pages of London Is the Best City In America while I was in graduate school in Virginia. A week after I finished school, I moved back to New York, spilled water on my computer and lost the entire thing. That wasn’t a good day to say the least. But, in many ways, it has turned out to be a blessing—because, in that moment, I learned that I was going to keep writing no matter what. I sat back down at the computer, and started again. A year later I had finished London. The only part that lasted from the first draft was the first three pages.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I am a book girl—I love how books look and feel, and love curling up with a great book in my hands. That said, I have friends that love their kindles (love them!), and—as a rule—I am for anything that gets people excited about reading.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? My number one tip is to remember that what makes you a writer is that you write. It’s not how many books you’ve gotten published, or stories you’ve sold. It’s about sitting down every day and telling the stories that matter to you. This is great news, in my opinion, because then our only responsibility is to keep doing just that. Figure out a way to keep showing up for your work—figure out how to make your writing a real part of your life—and the rest will take care of itself.

What are you reading now? I am reading a fantastic novel called Secrets To Happiness by Sarah Dunn. It is such a pleasure to discover a book that you don’t want to put down. This is one of them for me.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: I love this question. And I’d have to say that The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter and The Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken are perpetually at the top of my list. They are both about love and family and relationships and marriage. And, at their centers, they each have a main character who you can’t help but fall in love with. I highly recommend both.
Just for fun:
Favorite Season: I am a July baby, which may be why I love summer so much. Pretty much from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I’m smiling!

Morning or night: Night. I like to think I get better as the day goes on. (I know I’m a mess when it starts!)

Favorite ice cream flavor: Haagen Daz Cookies and Cream Ice Cream. Hands down.

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Fiji and New Zealand. I am told that you need to devote three weeks if you are able to head to that region of the world. So I would doubly look forward to the trip: first because there is nowhere else I’d rather visit, and second because that would mean I had a three week vacation on the horizon!

Type: Fiction, 246 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
Laura Dave is widely recognized as an up-and-coming talent in women's fiction. Now, with her characteristic wit and warmth, she captures a much-discussed cultural phenomenon that has never been profiled in fiction before—divorce celebrations. Set in Hamptons high society, The Divorce Party features two women—one newly engaged and one at the end of her marriage—trying to answer the same question: when should you fight to save a relationship, and when should you let go?An insightful and funny multi-generational story, this deeply moving novel is sure to touch anyone whose heart has weathered an unexpected storm.

Reviews:
I love The Divorce Party for so many reasons. It is funny, absorbing, and heartwarming – like having a glass of wine with your most insightful friend – Emily Giffin, author of Love the One You’re with
A revealing, honeest portrait of how love binds u together – and drives us apart… I love this book! – Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club

Review: Beach Trip


Thank you Lisa for inviting me to read Beach Trip for the TLC book tour this month.

Beach Trip is the third novel written by Cathy Holton. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and three children, in a house that has both electricity and running water but, alas, no magical phone to summon an English butler. (source: website)

This is a fun entertaining book for summer. A story of four women who went to college together come together 20 years after graduation for a beach trip.

We travel back and forth in time as we learn about these women. Mel is a wealthy, successful writer and has never been married. She has a tough edge to her personality. Sara is an attorney by day and seems to be consumed with guilt. Annie has a past that she can’t seem to move forward from. And Lola is a traditional southern mother to a daughter struggling with adulthood.

The women spend days together talking about past events and reconnecting with the present. I wasn’t sure how this book was going to end, there wasn’t a plot thickening moment in the book but the ending is comes out of no where – kudos to the author! You walk away knowing the women have strong personalities and character. They will stay connected for years to come. This is a fun beach read, a good choice for our Summer Reading Series.

Have you read this book? If yes (or when you do) here are some questions for you:
- What did you think about the ending and Lola’s decision?
- Do you keep in touch with friends from the past? Have you ever attended a class reunion? Any surprises worth sharing?

Type: Fiction, 432 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:
Break out the tissues, sunblock and margarita mix as four old friends reunite after 23 years for a beach party in Holton's feast of Southern friendship (after The Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes). Mel, Sara, Annie and Lola head out to Wild Dunes, a beachfront palace owned by Lola's super-rich husband on exclusive Whale Head Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Spacy Lola is miserably married and leans heavily on medication to deal with her husband's manipulations. Obsessive-compulsive Annie still broods over a college fling with a married professor even though she's got a great husband. Social worker Sara still envies glamorous Mel, a witty crime novelist (I'll Sleep When You're Dead is her latest) living in New York who's unlucky in marriage. At 45, each stands at a familiar crossroads covered by many novels of the midlife-empowerment genre, but Holton refreshes the action with winning humor, especially with Mel, whose take-no-prisoners attitude inspires everyone to embrace their present and let the past go. (May)

Reviews:

BN.COM review: Cathy Holton fans who are expecting yet another romp with kudzu debutantes are in for a surprise. While the four women who reunite after 23 years are bright and witty, they replace their kudzu predecessors' Machiavellian scheming with true heart and reflection. Holton offers more to fans of classics as she writes of college days studying literature and offers more to other writers as she recounts book tours and meeting with editors. Her women offer depth and honesty. They think, they examine their marriages, their parents and their empty nests. This novel is not one to get lost amongst the sand filled towels and beach buckets. It is a keeper.

Review: Happens Every Day


Touching, Emotional, one of the better memoirs I have read

Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life - a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. (Source: Website)

The book opens with Gillies stating “I am not a writer but I have been told I write good emails”. She is a wife/mother/woman telling her story. While reading some reviews on BN.COM, I read that some have criticized Gillies because she is vocal about her husband’s indiscretions and the potential impact to her children as they grow up. This is may be valid but you can also say she’s a woman with a story that MANY women can relate to or have compassion for.

Gillies shares her fairytale with us, describing moving to a small college town in Ohio, getting settled and building a new life. While reading the memoir you read that she is aware that something has changed almost from the beginning. This is the story of how she fought to ignore the signs and challenged the signs at the same time.

Click here to watch an interview on BN.COM

Today show video, Click here

Type: Memoir, 272 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:
Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life — a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.

When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isabel and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.

Far from a self-pitying diatribe, Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation between friends. Gillies has written a dizzyingly candid, compulsively readable, ultimately redemptive story about love, marriage, family, heartbreak, and the unexpected turns of a life. On the one hand, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. On the other hand, as Gillies herself says, it is about trying to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, and loving your life even if it has slipped away. Hers is a remarkable new voice — instinctive, funny, and irresistible.

Reviews:
Gillies movingly evokes the salt-on-wound sadness of loving a spouse turned stranger. —People

I couldn't help but admire her bravery in exposing the dark side of her seemingly perfect life in such a good-humored, self-effacing way. You feel nothing but deepest sympathy. —Elle

A smart, rueful memoir of love, betrayal, and survival. -O, The Oprah Magazine

Review: A Reliable Wife (MMBC Selection)


Thrilling, Unexpected, Solid
The book giveaway is now closed (in record time)!


A Reliable Wife is our seventh selection for the MMBC. We will begin discussing the book on Wednesday, August 19th. The author/publisher has generously donated 12 books. If you are interested in participating please send me an email with your address and ‘A Reliable Wife’ in the subject line.

I first read about this book this past January/February and immediately reached out to the publisher for an early copy. A Reliable Wife is the story of an unhappy man who places an ad in the paper for ‘a reliable wife’ and the woman who steps off the train doesn’t look like the photo he had been sent. This doesn’t seem to be an issue with Ralph who accepts Catherine into his life in hopes to pick up the pieces.

This is a solid book club selection, filled with many discussion topics including deception, ethics, love and hatred to name a few. The story takes many twists and turns and keeps the reader engrossed from the first page to the end. There were many times in this book when I thought…wow, I didn’t see that coming! I can’t wait to discuss the book in detail on August 19th.
You might not like the rigidness of the book, I didn't feel the emotions of the characters but maybe that was the point. It's a cold story

Below you will find and author Q&A and details about the book.

A Conversation with Robert Goolrick:
Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in Virginia, in the country, and, as a family, since we didn’t have a television, our main forms of entertainment were reading and talking. We were allowed and encouraged to read anything – my brother read War and Peace at twelve, we all read The New Yorker, and Cheever and O’Hara and tons of Dickens. My grandmother lived with us, a great woman, and she adored Dickens and despised pretty much everything else written after that, so it gave us something to talk about with her. And talking. My father was sort of the king of anecdotes, so I grew up, as Southerners do, listening to endless stories about friends and relatives who had died decades or even centuries before I was born.

Do you write daily? No. When I’m starting a book, I tend to think about it ceaselessly, without ever writing anything. When I DO start to write, I work a little bit at a time, then a little more, and the more obsessed I get, the more I write, until I find myself writing ten hours a day. My first published book, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, was written in two months. A RELIABLE WIFE, which was written before the memoir, too years of thought, literally years, and then came fairly quickly, inside of a year.

People think writing is easy. It’s not. And it’s a real job, so writers will generally do anything they can think of to shirk their tasks. I always say the worst thing that ever happened to writers was the invention of the frost-free refrigerator because, with the old ones, when all the other methods of shirking were exhausted, you could always defrost the refrigerator. That’s a whole day right there.

What was it like getting your first novel published? A RELIABLE WIFE is actually my second book, but there was a strong and welcome air of excitement around it, particularly from booksellers around the country. If they like it, it’s a great leg up, because then they believe they can sell it and recommend it honestly to customers.

It takes a surprisingly long time to have a book published, years, so you have a lot of time to fret and equivocate, and you have to force yourself to simply let go, and let the process happen at its own snail’s pace.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I don’t have one, but I see people with them and I feel a kind of envy. They seem to be kind of an Etch-A-Sketch for literature and information, and they’re new enough so that they always attract some attention and a question or two.

Anything that gets people to read is fine by me and, it’s true, books are heavy.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? It’s really, really hard to get a first novel published these days. Do not give up until you absolutely have to. A friend of mine says, “If three people tell you you’re drunk, lie down,” but three is barely scratching the surface in publishing. Twenty-eight publishers turned my novel down, and I hope by the time you’re reading this, they’re scratching their heads in bewilderment.

What are you reading now?
THE NEW VALLEY, By Josh Weil, a remarkable, stunning collection of novellas by a writer who is already up there with our very best.

AMERICAN RUST, by Phillip Meyer, a tour de force, complex, inventively written, an exploration of the ramifications of a single regrettable act, and of the spider web of moral ambiguity which can catch even the most decent and ordinary people.

MURDER CITY, by Michael Lesy, whose book WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP influenced my novel tremendously. A finely detailed examination of notorious murder cases in Chicago in the Twenties, it makes the musical named after the city seem like REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: THE TRANSIT OF VENUS, by Shirley Hazzard, (practically my favorite modern novel of all time,) THEM, by Joyce Carol Oates, because it contains the sentence: “He knew if he had a car he was an American and he could not die,” LIGHT YEARS, by James Salter, because it is the most grownup book I’ve ever read, and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, by John Irving, because it is completely complete, birth to death, and wholly satisfying in very way, without a single loose thread.

Just for fun:
Favorite Season: Fall
Morning or night: Night
Favorite ice cream flavor: Butter Pecan
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Angkor Wat, ten years ago, Cuba right now, Parrot Cay in February, any February.

Type: Fiction, 291 pages, hardcover

Synopsis:
Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.

Reviews:
“Astonishing, complex, beautifully written, and brilliant, A Reliable Wife is a nearly-forensic look at love in all its incarnations, with all its damages, deceptions, and obsessions, run through with points of light and pinned with ruinous truths.”—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“A Reliable Wife “generates some real suspense. . . . This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close.”—Publishers Weekly

Review: The Accidental Bestseller


Smart, well written, engaging

The Accidental Bestseller, written by Wendy Wax, is a story of friendship, careers, life challenges and survival. Four women meet a decade before the books opening page, at a writer’s conference and become close friends for years to come. Kendall is under a tight deadline, her marriage is falling apart and she’s not sure how she will make it through the day much less write. Enter three wonderful friends, willing to do just about anything to support her. They end up writing a bestselling novel, living through some ethical inquiries and find a way to succeed in live.

I really enjoyed that all four characters had different backgrounds, successes and economic status. I hope this is true for all of us, that we do not define our friends but monetary measures. There are moments in this book that make me want to ask, is this really how the publishing business works or is this fiction? If you are looking for a smart book with some knowledge of the publishing industry woven into the storyline you will enjoy The Accidental Bestseller.

A conversation with Wendy Wax
Tell us a little about yourself: I was a journalism/broadcast major in college and after graduating I worked in radio, television and film both in front of and behind the camera. I worked for the Tampa PBS affiliate, on a number of feature films, and as a voice over and on camera talent for commercial and corporate projects. The most memorable of these was my stint as the host of a live radio call-in show on WDAE Radio called, Desperate & Dateless—which I was at the time!

Do you write daily? Yes. I’m at my best first thing in the morning, so once my sons leave for school I sit down and get started. This is not to say I don’t dawdle over a couple cups of coffee and check just a few emails first, but the morning is my most creative time. Later in the day there are after school activities and homework and all that, which I like to be available for. In the evenings I generally read chapters I might be critiquing and handle business emails and that sort of thing.

What was it like getting your first novel published? In 1994 I was a stay-at-home mom with a newborn and a two-year-old and was watching more Barney the Purple Dinosaur and Thomas the Tank Engine than is good for a person.


I was looking for a creative outlet and decided to try my hand at writing fiction. Looking back, I wonder that being a full time mother, which is definitely the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the fact that I knew nothing about writing fiction, didn’t deter me. (I chalk this up to post pregnancy hormones and lack of sleep!)

It took me three years to complete that first novel, find an agent, and sell it. (This seemed like an eternity at the time; it was only after being in publishing for a while that I discovered how slowly things can move!) LOVE TALK, which drew on my experiences as host of Desperate & Dateless, came out in 1997. (I’ve joked that it was almost completely autobiographical except for the really great sex!)


Each book after that also took years. It wasn’t until my youngest started school full time, that I became more productive.

In the intervening years, I’ve been published by Kensington, Bantam and now, Berkley. The Accidental Bestseller is my seventh novel.

In hindsight, getting published was not the hardest part for me although it seemed it at the time; what came afterward was. So many of us believe that getting our first book published is the final hurdle, the ‘end’ of the road, but as The Accidental Bestseller illustrates, that first sale is just the first step in what can be a long and tumultuous journey.
What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think they’re very cool, though I still like the feel of a book in my hands. I have just figured out how to download the Kindle application onto my iPhone and was surprised at how easy the screen is to read. I also love the fact that the next time you ‘open’ the book it takes you right to where you left off!
What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to realize that creating and building a writing career is rarely fast or easy. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

Every so often a writer appears on the scene and shoots to the top of the bestseller lists and becomes a fixture there, but the vast majority of writers spend years honing their craft, writing book after book, and, sometimes, moving from agent to agent and publisher to publisher trying to reach the widest possible audience in the best possible way.

James Baldwin put it really well when he said, “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck—but most of all, endurance.”


What are you reading now? The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone. It’s the first of his books I’ve read, and I’m really enjoying it.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Gone with the Wind is my favorite book of all time. I’ve joked that I went to the University of Georgia because I’d read it one-too-many times, and I’m not sure it’s actually a joke! I have somewhat eclectic taste and there are a lot of books I’ve really enjoyed, but if forced to choose, I think I’d add Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen to the list.


Just for fun
Favorite Season: Fall –before we moved to Atlanta from Florida twelve years ago, I’d never experienced one!

Morning or night: Morning!

Favorite ice cream flavor: Anything with chocolate in it. Make that lot’s of chocolate!

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: I’d stop off in Italy because I haven’t been there in so long and then I’d go to Greece, because I’ve always wanted to go there and never have.


Type: Fiction, 419 pages, Trade paperback

Synopsis:

Once upon a time four aspiring authors met at their very first writers' conference. Ten years later they're still friends, survivors of the ultra-competitive New York publishing world. Mallory St. James is a workaholic whose bestsellers support a lavish lifestyle. Tanya Mason is a single mother juggling two jobs, two kids, and too many deadlines. Faye Truett is the wife of a famous televangelist and the author of inspirational romances: no one would ever guess her explosive secret. Kendall Aims's once-promising career is on the skids—and so is her marriage. Her sales are dismal, her new editor detests her work—and her husband is cheating. Barely able to think, let alone meet her final deadline, Kendall holes up in a mountain cabin to confront a blank page and a blanker future. But her friends won't let her face this trial alone. Together they collaborate on a novel using their own lives as fodder, assuming no one will ever discover the truth behind their words.

No one is more surprised than they are when the book becomes a runaway bestseller. But with success comes scrutiny and scandal...as these four best friends suddenly realize how little they've truly known each other.

Reviews:

“A terrific story brimming with wit, warmth, and good humor. I loved it!” – Jane Porter, author of Mrs. Perfect

“A wry, revealing tell-all about friendship and surviving the world of publishing.” – Haywood Smith, NY Times Bestselling author

Review: The Secret Keeper


Engaging, fast read, Kept me on my toes!
Thank you Lisa for inviting me to read The Secret Keeper for TLC Book Tours. In addition to reading and reviewing the book today, you will find an interview with Paul Harris below.

I haven’t read a suspense novel in quite some time altough I’m not sure I would put this book in the suspense category but there’s murder, love, education of a place I know little about and a solid storyline. A fast read that you will enjoy to the last page.

This is the story of a journalist who receives a letter from a woman in his past asking for urgent help. We quickly learn that Maria has been murdered and the letter Danny holds in his hand makes him want to find out what happened. Moving between the past and current day this story is well written and the characters are well defined. You will learn about the political struggles of Sierra Leone and the hope for a peaceful existence.

Paul Harris has first hand experience with Sierra Leona and documenting fright, war and conflict around the world. He has woven in the horror of history with a love story and a man trying to find his path in life with The Secret Keeper.

A conversation with Paul Harris:

Tell us a little about yourself: I was born and raised in England but I am half-American through my mother, who is from Iowa. She and my dad met in Northern Ireland where they were both students and decided to stay in the UK. Ever since I gave up wanting to be an astronaut or professional soccer player (unlikely dreams to say the least) I wanted to be a journalist. I set up a newspaper at my school when I was just 10 and then plunged into student journalism at college. I always wanted to be a foreign correspondent and I guess I was somewhat seduced by the glamorous image it can have, especially when reporting from conflict zones. I was lucky in that I have been able to fulfill that dream in a variety of places across the world from Sierra Leone to Iraq to Pakistan. But, now that I am older, I am much luckier to have come through that unscathed and to have (pretty much) lost the desire to do it anymore. I now have a much more complex view of journalism and conflict reporting in particular. I hope some of that comes out in the Secret Keeper. Now I am the US Correspondent of The Observer, a British weekly newspaper. I cover US politics and culture and get to travel across the country from my base in New York. It is amazing fun and - so far - have not had to bribe and bluff my way through a single armed roadblock or deal with a warlord.

Do you write daily? I have tended to write in bursts, rather than daily. I'll take a vacation and lock myself away somewhere with just my laptop for company and really plunge into it. Then I'll come up for air and go back to my day job. I would love to be able to write daily though and fit it in around the rest of my work. It's a skill and discipline that would be great to learn.

What was it like getting your first novel published? I found it a surreal experience. As a journalist I have been used to seeing my name in print and having my reporting read by people around the world. But that is all factual journalism based on events or people's opinions. It is a completely different feeling when it is fiction. I know it probably sounds odd, but it is a very strange experience to come up with a novel - which is literally just made-up thoughts from your own mind - and then see it on sale in bookstores or being read by friends and strangers alike. You have to pinch yourself to make sure that is really happening.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? A few weeks ago I was riding the subway in Manhattan and saw someone reading on their Kindle rather than a physical book or newspaper. I suspect that was a sign of things to come. Technology is going to change the way we read and I suspect we will have no choice but to embrace it. It will probably happen slower than most people think. I don't think good old paper books are going away any time soon. But it is clear new ways of reading are coming. It is quite scary but I firmly believe that it is merely a shift in the way people read. People still want to read as much as they ever have done.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Be patient. Stick at it. Don't give up the day job. I know that's probably very dull advice, but publishing is a crazy, unpredictable industry. You need the patience to actually write something, you need to stick at it to overcome the unpredictable tastes and opinions of agents/publishers/editors and you need the day job as a buffer against an unreliable industry.

What are you reading now? I actually just finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I enjoyed but did not love. And before that I read a collection of Annie Proulx stories. She was a revelation to me. She is an amazing writer though her work can be brutal.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Possibly my favourite non-classic book is a sprawling novel called The Therapy of Avram Blok by Simon Louvish. It is impossible to describe, full of eccentric characters, obscure references and outlandish plot details. But it is so full of life and laughter that - despite being a novel - it is a book you can just dip into randomly and read a few pages and really enjoy them. I bought a copy in the mid-80s when I was about 15 years old. I had no idea what it was but it had a crazy cover of a pig smoking a cigarette and wearing a floral tropical shirt. I still have that book though it is incredibly dog-eared. Just writing these words makes me want to go and pick it up again.

Just for fun:

Favorite Season: Spring.

Morning or night: Night.

Favorite ice cream flavor: Mint choc chip (a legacy of my American grandmother)

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Right now, I think I would go to Eastern Europe. It's been a long time since I have done any travelling in Europe as I have lived in the US and Africa for most of my professional career. So I would love a trip through some of those old cities like Prague or Budapest or Krakow. And then I'd explore the mountains and forests of Transylvania in Romania. I went there very briefly in 2000 to visit a friend. It is a magical place. Just like you would imagine from fairy tales.
BWAV rating of this book: 3.5 stars
Type: Fiction, 318 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:
Four years ago, British journalist Danny Kellerman was given the opportunity of a lifetime: covering the political crisis in Sierra Leone as a war correspondent. While in Freetown he begins a passionate love affair with a beautiful American woman named Maria Tirado, who helps run an orphanage for ex-child soldiers. But Danny can't shake the feeling that Maria is hiding something from him, and as the crisis escalates, Danny has no choice but to leave; he boards a helicopter out of Freetown and never turns back....Until four years later, when, with a new relationship and a new life in London, Danny receives a mysterious, urgent letter from Maria. She's in trouble and needs Danny's help. But the letter is dated three weeks earlier, and it's already too late. Danny learns that Maria was murdered in a roadside robbery.Haunted and heartbroken, Danny leaves London and returns to Freetown. Although there is now peace in Sierra Leone, corruption is rampant and every promising lead is a dead end. But with the help of old friends and contacts, Danny uncovers a string of secrets that sheds a shocking light on the woman he thought he knew—and reveals a hidden truth that could destroy those in power. Trapped in the heart of a dangerous nation where he can trust no one, Danny is forced to choose between his journalistic integrity and the devastating consequences of speaking the truth.

Reviews:
"A fast-paced, stylish and gripping thriller laced with international intrigue. Harris plunges headfirst into the frightening reality of Africa in the throes of a blood-soaked civil war."-- Nicholas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells

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