Best books of 2013

Lu Ann Cahn's 5 Firsts and Lasts

I Dare Me by Lu Ann Cahn Today's guest: Lu Ann Cahn Why we love her:  Absolutely love the concept of this book! Talk about a kick ass way to deal with your life being in a rut.

Her latest: I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life By Doing Something New Every Day

The scoop: One woman’s quest to do one new thing every day of the year, what she learned, and what we all can gain from her journey...

In 2009 veteran journalist and eight-time Emmy award winner Lu Ann Cahn was feeling angry and frustrated. The economy was tanking. Her job was changing. Budgets were being cut. She resented the new technology and social media she was being asked to embrace at work. In a word, she felt “stuck.”

Cahn’s daughter encouraged her to try blogging, and after some thought, she decided to write about trying something new every day for a year. Little did she know, that "Year of Firsts" would change her outlook on life. For 365 days Cahn made a point of doing something she had never done before, some as simple as performing an old task in a new way, some creative and extreme:

Riding a mechanical bull Eating a scorpion Speaking to a complete stranger on the street Smoking a cigar Shoveling horse manure Zip-lining across a crocodile-infested Mexican lake Spending a day in a wheelchair Walking her dog backwards Taking a drum lesson from a famous 80s rocker

In the process she discovered that "firsts" were the antidote to “stuck.” I Dare Me is Cahn’s journey, but it's more than just a memoir. It challenges readers to confront their own fears, and encourages them to try their own "firsts."

Our thoughts: Be prepared to be inspired!

Giveaway: ONE copy of Lu Ann's book!  Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winner on Sunday, December 15th after 12pm PST.

Where you can read more about Lu Ann: Her website


Lu Ann Cahn author photo1.KISS

First kiss? Boy, this is tough.  I think my first "boy" kiss was in the 6th grade. My friend had a slumber party in her basement and a group of guys from school crashed it without her parents knowing. Spin the bottle? I think that's how  I was smacked with my first kiss.  I do remember I didn't sleep that night....delicious.

Last kiss? Easy. My husband insists I don't leave the house or go to bed without a kiss. It's a good policy especially when the you-know-what is hitting the fan.  Those kisses keep me grounded.


First book? The Cat in the Hat.  I'm pretty sure I had every single Dr. Seuss book. I wish I kept the originals. I loved them all.

Last book? I'm reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things".  It doesn't matter what she writes.  Her words are "butter".


First Risk I took? When I was in fifth grade I sang "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music to my class for a "talent day" with no music.  Haha. I  wish we had video back then.  Thank God we didn't though.  I actually thought I could sing and I had no evidence until years later that I couldn't.

Last Risk I took? My book, I Dare Me, is all about taking risks so I try to take them frequently.  The last one that terrified me was about a week ago when I did my first Power Point Presentation. It turns out talking and clicking isn't as tough as I thought it would be.


First AHA moment? In high school I took a creative writing class and the teacher told me I was a good writer.  I believed her.

Last AHA moment? A dear friend of mine just read my book and said it made her laugh out loud and made her happy.  I believed her.


First Hell Ya! moment? When I told my personal story of having a delayed diagnosis of an aggressive breast cancer on TV to all of Philadelphia in 1991 and hundreds of women went to get their first mammogram.

Last Hell Ya! moment? When I walked off the Kathie Lee and Hoda Today Show set with my daughter last week.  I didn't even have a glass of wine but it felt good.

Thanks, Lu Ann!

Mary Kay Andrews' 5 Firsts & Lasts

Christmas Bliss book coverToday's guest: Mary Kay Andrews Why we love her: Because she's Mary Kay Andrews! The best!

Her latest: Christmas Bliss

The scoop: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and Savannah was breezy

But there's trouble afoot - and it's heading toward Weezie.

Seems BeBe’s been holding a big secret back

that would make Santa’s reindeer stop dead in their tracks.

Can these two best friends wriggle out of these twists?

Will they do it in time to ensure CHRISTMAS BLISS?

Our thoughts: Such a warm and cozy winter read--it feels like a blanket you wrap around yourself to keep warm during the cold weather!

Mary_Kay_Andrews_giveawayGiveaway: One copy of Christmas Bliss, a signed bookplate, a bookmark, a set of recipe cards and an ornament! (US only.) Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winner on Sunday, December 1 after 12 pm PST.

Where you can read more about Mary Kay Andrews: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.







Mary Kay Andrews author photoFIRST KISS: Hmm. I must have been a late bloomer, because the first one I recall was from my high school boyfriend. He was a sailing instructor and almost always had a blob of zinc oxide on his nose. He was very sweet—until he dumped me and broke my teenaged heart. I still think of him when I get a whiff of Brut aftershave.

LAST KISS: From my starter husband—of 37 years. After all these years he still revs my rockets.

FIRST BOOK: Probably a big Golden Book edition of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. It was wrapped up as a Christmas gift, but I found it early, slipped it out of the wrapping paper, read it and put it back. I remember being entranced with the castaway’s tree house, which started me on a life-long affair with houses—of all kinds.

LAST BOOK: MOONRISE, by Cassandra King, a contemporary re-telling of Daphne DuMaurier’s REBECCA, which is one of my favorite novels ever. Come to think of it, Moonrise, a spooky old mansion in Highlands, N.C.,  is Cassandra’s version of DuMaurier’s Manderley. See—still obsessed with houses after all these years.

FIRST RISK I TOOK: Going off to college to a school in a faraway state, that I’d never laid eyes on, where I didn’t know a soul. It was my 18-year-old attempt at independence. I was miserable at first, missing my then boyfriend, later husband, but I eventually made friends and discovered I liked being out on my own.

LAST RISK I TOOK: Leaving my long-time publisher and beloved editor. I’m a totally risk averse type, and hate change.  I agonized over the decision for weeks, and had many sleepless nights, but in the end, it was one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made.

HELL YA MOMENT: First: Finally getting my driver’s license at the ripe old age of 21—my driver’s ed instructor terrorized me so badly I was probably the only kid in my high school graduating class to have to hitch a ride to school with my baby sister. When I finally did get my license—the summer before college graduation, I realized I loved being in the driver’s seat—literally and figuratively.

LAST HELL YA MOMENT: Figuring out how to add contacts to my new iPhone.

AHA MOMENT: Realizing I was in charge of my own success—or failure. And that if I didn’t believe in me, nobody else would either.


Thanks, Mary Kay!


Allison Winn Scotch's 5 Fall Faves

The Theory of Opposites coverToday's guest: Allison Winn Scotch Why we love her: We've crushed on Allison since we read her novel, Time of My Life and found out these 25 things about her.

Her latest: The Theory of Opposites

The scoop: What happens when you think you have it all, and then suddenly it's taken away?

Willa Chandler-Golden's father changed the world with his self-help bestseller, Is It Really Your Choice? Why Your Entire Life May Be Out of Your Control. Millions of devoted fans now find solace in his notion that everything happens for a reason. Though Willa isn't entirely convinced of her father's theories, she readily admits that the universe has delivered her a solid life: a reliable husband, a fast-paced career. Sure there are hiccups - negative pregnancy tests, embattled siblings - but this is what the universe has brought, and life, if she doesn't think about it too much, is wonderful. Then her (evidently not-so-reliable) husband proposes this: a two-month break. Two months to see if they can't live their lives without each other. And before Willa can sort out destiny and fate and what it all means, she's axed from her job, her 12 year-old nephew Nicky moves in, her ex-boyfriend finds her on Facebook, and her best friend Vanessa lands a gig writing for Dare You!, the hottest new reality TV show. And then Vanessa lures Willa into dares of her own - dares that run counter to her father's theories of fate, dares that might change everything...but only if Willa is brave enough to stop listening to the universe and instead aim for the stars.

Our thoughts: This novel was so much fun! Definitely snap up your copy asap!

Giveaway: ONE copy. Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll choose the winner on Sunday, November 17th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact: Jennifer Garner's Vandalia film has optioned the rights to adapt The Theory of Opposites for the big screen!

Where you can read more about Alison: Her website, Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to check out her recent post over on Writer Unboxed about why she decided to "go indie" with this novel.


Allison Winn Scotch headshot1. Memory

There is something about the scent of fall that reminds me of returning to college. I loved my four years there, though I am certainly aware that I view that time with nostalgic rose-colored glasses. But still. There was always an anticipation, an electricity of returning to campus; of unpacking my J.Crew fisherman sweaters; of hugging friends whom I hadn't seen or spoken to in months (this was before Facebook!); of strolling under the towering trees that lined my school's main walkway and just feeling…invincible. That's what those first few days back at school made me feel. Like this year, anything was possible. So that's a pretty hard memory to beat.

2. Favorite recipe

It's funny – I have never been a cook. I lived in NYC for almost 20 years, and honestly, I never found a reason to prepare anything when I could just as easily pick up amazing gourmet food in, like, five minutes. But we moved to LA last year, and suddenly, with the farmer's market at my doorstep and that sort of holistic-mentality everywhere (which I swore I'd be immune to!), I've learned to embrace cooking. Well, baking actually. I've become that person who bakes muffins for her kids just because, and trust me, it's as shocking to me as it is to them. Anyway, not that we have particularly cold days here in LA, but everything is relative, and when the temperature drops to below 65 (hee), I break out the muffin tin. Here's a lower-fat banana muffin recipe that I got from Cooking Light and have tweaked a bit, that I make a few times a week for their school snack. The recipe is originally for banana bread, and if you did the loaf, you'd bake it for longer…about an hour.

2 cups flour 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar (I often mix brown and white) 1/4 cup melted butter 2 large eggs 1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt (I use whatever my kids have in the fridge – often, strawberry or banana flavored) 3-4 ripe mashed bananas (I mash mine in my Vitamix) 1 tsp vanilla A bunch of spices – I shake in some cinnamon, nutmeg, and recently, pumpkin pie spice, which is AMAZING – just add in whatever you think sounds great Cooking spray

1.      Preheat oven to 350°. 2.      Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt, stirring with a whisk. 3.      Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into muffin tins coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 25-30 mins or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

3. Drink

This one is obvious, right? Does everyone say spiced apple cider? OMG. Yum. There are few things that are more representative of fall to me than hot cider. Okay, that's it. I have to go make myself a mug now.

4. Activity/hobby

Geez. I should say, like, apple picking or jam making or canning or something, should I? Or since I just bragged about my Betty Crocker-like skills, maybe it's pumpkin-pie making? Hmmm. Nope, none of those. Gosh, I'm stumped. One thing that I really do love to do, once the weather dips cooler, but not too cold (though I'm in LA now, who am I kidding), is to start taking longer runs outside. You know, right when the breeze hits that just-right temperature to push you out the door, even when you'd rather pull a blanket over you? Yeah, on those crisp, perfect days, I love to log in a good run. You hate yourself for doing it about 3/4 the way in, but your cheeks turn pink and when you're done, oh my god, you squint up at the sky and just think, "Hell yes." That's the perfect fall day.

5. Writing inspiration

I do always find it easier to write when the wind is breezy and the windows are rattling a little bit. Sort of like a bear in hibernation. You just want to stay inside and wrap yourself up in comfortable clothes and daydream. So I guess my writing inspiration in fall is just…fall. I hate winter, but fall goes down easy, you know? Everything is beautiful; the world is pretty marvelous; and life, until the temperature dips another 20 degrees, is pretty hard to beat.

Thanks, Allison!

7 Seconds in Heaven with Mark Ellwood

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke spend 7 Seconds in Heaven with Mark EllwoodToday's guest: Mark Ellwood Why we want to spend 7 Seconds in Heaven with him: Any man who not only wants to go shopping is our kind of guy!

His latest: Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World (October 17th)

The scoop: A spirited investigation into the world of bargain hunting and how shoppers and sellers try to one-up each other

When Coca-Cola offered the first retail coupon in the 1880s, customers were thrilled. But today, one in four American shoppers will buy something only if it’s on sale, and almost half of all merchandise carries a promotional price. The relentless pursuit of deals has totally disrupted the relationship between buyers and sellers.

In this playful, well-researched book, journalist Mark Ellwood investigates what happens to markets when everything’s negotiable. From the haggling bazaars of Istanbul to Black Friday at a mall in upstate New York to pinnacles of global luxury such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton, sellers and shoppers are engaged in a constant game of cat and mouse.

Price consultants use the latest findings in neuroeconomics to fool shoppers into thinking they’ve gotten a great deal. Consumers, on the other hand, are more empowered than ever by technology, from coupon apps to strategic Twitter analysis. And some brands resist the trend entirely, opting to set their unsold merch out to sea and shred it rather than slash prices.

Enlightening as it is entertaining, Bargain Fever offers invaluable insights into how shopping works today.

Our thoughts: Fascinating. Informative. Juicy.

Giveaway: Two copies!  Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, October 6th after 12 pm PST.

Where you can read more about Mark: His website and Twitter.


Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke talk to Mark Ellwood about why no one should ever pay full price for anything1. Liz & Lisa: How did you get into being a retail expert/why did you write this book? Not to sound sexist, but dare we point out that you are a man writing about shopping for an audience, we're assuming is made up of mostly women? :)

Mark Ellwood: I've always loved shopping - I'd take retail therapy over analysis any time. I'd rather haggle for a leather couch than sit on one.

I think it's all down to my childhood.  I grew up (very happily) as an only child, with a mother for whom shopping was a sport. Going to the shops was my family's answer to walk in the park: only far more fun, a lot less grubby and with a bigger chance of grabbing a great deal on a pair of jeans.

As I was dragged, solo, from store to store by my mom, I realized early on that I had a choice: hate shopping and in the process much of my childhood, or embrace it and start having fun. I opted for the latter.

What's more, my mom is from Scotland, a nation famous in Europe for its love of a bargain. I still tease her that when she puts two 5 pound notes in her wallet, she's secretly hoping they might breed, Giant Panda-style. Nothing makes her happier than a surprise price adjustment on a Sunday afternoon. I inherited that, too.

2. L& L: Tell us more about this concept of "buyagra" (we think we might have it!)

ME: Picture it. You're sitting in a restaurant, and you order a slice of chocolate cake. Delicious, sure, but no big deal. Imagine being in that same cafe and the delighted surprise you feel when the owner remembers it's your birthday; a free slab of molten lava cake appears, candle flickering merrily.

In the former case, your brain is happy. In the latter, it's ecstatic, and is surging with a special chemical called dopamine. This is a much misunderstood hormone, often assumed to be Dr Feelgood Juice. It isn't. It's better to think of dopamine as Bonus Juice; it essentially spritzes in your brain every time the situation's better than you expected.

The commonest time that happens? The sight of a 50% OFF sign, when the cute dress you were planning to buy is a better deal than you could have hoped. Some of us are more powerless under buyagra's thrall than others - one in four people, in fact. They are the shopaholics who have a harmless genetic variant that basically turbocharges buyagra's impact on their brains. It's biological for those women, who camp out overnight for Black Friday bargains.

3. L&L: What's the #1 mistake we make as shoppers?

ME: No one should ever, ever, ever pay full price for anything. Did I say *ever*? Whether it's Googling for a coupon code before checking out online, or simply asking a store clerk sweetly "Are there any discounts I should know about today?" the rule is simple. If it's not at least 10% off, my wallet stays shut and so should yours.

My latest obsession is PoachIt, a button that installs in your browser and you hit any time you're hovering on a product page - completely free, it will retrieve any coupon code or discount that exists anywhere online right now for that item.

4. L&L: What's the #1 shopping secret everyone should know?

ME: Until about 1980, prices were set using what was known as the cost-plus model - companies took what it cost to make, say, a wine glass and used a simple equation to work out the retail price. Say it cost a buck to make each glass, then final price would be 2.5 times that - $2.50.

Then everything changed when a wily German invented the idea of market-based pricing - basically, "What can we get away with charging for that?" Suddenly, it didn't matter that the glass cost a buck to make - it mattered how much it looked like it was worth. Let's make it $10, because it's got a designer label on it. How else did a classic Chanel flap-over bag cost $2,850 in 2008 then just two years later be marked $4,100 (a rise of 44%)?

That price inflation, which happens in every industry now, is the reason shelling when something isn't on sale is so redundant. The ability to discount is built-in to every price.

5. L&L: What's your feeling on buying clothes on eBay or from a second-hand store?

ME: Resellers are a wonderful resource: eco-friendly (less wastage on fast fashion that's worn twice and thrown into a landfill) and bargain-priced (that Vuitton bag on consignment will be less than half its cost brand new). The only challenge is that the boom in consigning has also birthed a boon for fakes, and the industry's infested with knockoffs.

Online, giveaways that something might be more Luis Vuttion than LV are blurbs that keep reiterating "100% authentic" - it's the shopping equivalent of a guy on a first date who's overemphatic about how he has no feelings for his ex (If it were true, you wouldn't need to keep on saying it). To be safe, buy from a reputable reseller with a reputation and guarantees - one of my favorites is It's an Aladdin's Cave of cut-price designer purses.

6: L&L: Complete this sentence:When I'm not writing, producing or presenting, I'm _________.

ME: I'm shopping. Honestly. My favorite place for a bargain is the basement of the Strand bookstore on Broadway in downtown Manhattan, where review copies are illicitly offloaded at half price. The moment I come across my own book on those shelves will be a meta discount moment. And yes, I'll probably buy a couple of copies.

7. L&L: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

ME: I speak fluent Italian, despite looking as British as Harry Potter. I spent chunks of my childhood in Tuscany, and I picked up the local lingo so I could play with the other kids on the beach. It's served me well, as I love Italy so much (the shopping's amazing, of course).

It's also delicious as most Italians assume anyone blonder than Sophia Loren won't understand a word they're saying, as their language isn't exactly spoken worldwide. I've eavesdropped on the most outrageous conversations in Venice or Rome, whether hotel clerks wondering out loud whether to upgrade my room (I waited til they finished, and then replied sweetly I'd love una camera con la veduta) to waiters complaining about other diners (never me, so far at least)

Thanks, Mark!

Jennifer Chiaverini's 5 Fall Faves

Best books of 2013, Best paperbacks of 2013Today's guest: Jennifer Chiaverini Why we love her: She is a wonderful storyteller!

Her latest: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker (Out in paperback September 24th!)

The scoop: New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini’s compelling historical novel unveils the private lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln through the perspective of the First Lady’s most trusted confidante and friend, her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.

In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

Our thoughts: This book grabbed us from the first page and didn't let go. It's an engaging story that we think you will love!

Giveaway: TWO copies. Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, September 29th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact: She's the author of twenty-two novels!

Where you can read more about Jennifer: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Best books of 2013, Best paperbacks of 2013

1. Memory

I have many favorite fall memories, but on this cool Wisconsin morning I think first of one of our family traditions—driving out to a local farm to pick apples and pumpkins. I recall vividly the sweet taste of the fruit, the fragrance of windfall apples on the ground, the buzz of the bees in the sunshine, and the creak of the rusted handle of the red Radio Flyer wagon as I pull my sons through the orchard and pumpkin patch.

2. Favorite recipe

When the weather turns cooler, I crave all things gingerbread. Usually I try to eat healthy, but when I want to indulge, I make a batch of gingerbread muffins:


3 ¾ cups Hodgson Mill 50/50 Whole Wheat & White Flour 1 cup Brown Sugar 1 Tbsp Baking Soda 1 Tbsp Cinnamon 1 Tbsp Nutmeg 1 Tbsp Ground Ginger 1 ½ cups Land O Lakes Light Butter ¾ cup Egg Beaters (or 3 eggs) 1 cup Molasses 1 cup Hot Water 1 11.5 ounce bag Ghirardelli White Chocolate Chips, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tin cups with paper liners.
  2. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl.
  3. Place butter in a medium-size, microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave. Stir in Egg Beaters, molasses, and hot water.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix just until ingredients are blended. Stir in white chocolate chips, if desired.
  5. Fill muffin tin cups ⅔ full. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Makes 30 muffins.

3. Drink

If you want me to be very specific, my favorite drink was bottle of Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2007 that I enjoyed with my husband and a few traveling companions at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness, Scotland. A marvelous wine shared with good friends in a beautiful setting—what more could I want from a drink? More generally, I like the occasional glass of red wine over dinner, and a strong English Breakfast tea with milk in the morning or on a rainy fall afternoon.

4. Activity/hobby

I love to run. My favorite racing distance is the half marathon, but I'm planning to run my first full marathon in November. I've long considered attempting a full marathon, but I've hesitated out of worry that I'd collapse before crossing the finish line. After the terrible bombing at Boston Marathon earlier this year, however, I resolved to commit myself to a full marathon as a tribute to the courage of those who were killed, injured, or lost loved ones. It's a small act of defiance and solidarity with other runners and those who cheer them on, to show that no one can take away our joy or destroy our community.

5. Writing inspiration

I take inspiration from the many strong, courageous women who have played significant—though often unsung—roles in American history.

Thanks, Jennifer!

5 Things We Didn't Know About...Jane Porter

The Good Wife book coverToday's guest: Jane Porter Why we love her: She's one of our faves for good reason. Since we read Flirting With Forty, we've been HUGE fans!

Her latest: The Good Wife (The third of the Brennan sisters novels.)

The scoop: Is it possible to love someone too much?

Always considered the beauty of the family, the youngest Brennan sister, Sarah, remains deeply in love with her husband of ten years. Boone Walker, a professional baseball player, travels almost year-round while Sarah stays home and cares for their two children. Her love for her husband is bottomless—so much so that her sisters say it will end up hurting her.

Living apart most of the time makes life difficult, especially since Sarah often wonders whether Boone is sharing his bed with other women on the road, even though he swears he’s been true to her since his infidelity three years ago. While she wants to be happy and move forward in her life, Sarah constantly fears that Boone will break his promise. Now with Boone facing yet another career change, tension rises between the two, adding more stress to an already turbulent marriage. Emotionally exhausted, Sarah can’t cope with yet another storm. Now, she must either break free from the past and forgive Boone completely, or leave him behind and start anew...

Our thoughts: A great book. A wonderful series. You will love these characters!

Giveaway: TWO SETS of ALL THREE books from Jane's Brennan Sisters series! Leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, September 22nd after 12 pm PST.

Fun fact:This is the 4th time Jane has been our guest. She's also shared her 5 Best Evers, 5 Things she'd tell her teen self and What's on her Bucket List.

Where you can read more about Jane: Her website,her blog, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!


Jane Porter author photo1. I love a steak dinner.  A thick, juicy steak, roasted potatoes and a crisp green salad – heaven!  My grandfather was a Texan who owned three ranches and I grew up in cow country.  In fact, it was my love for ranching that inspired me to write She’s Gone Country a couple of years ago.

2. When I was young, I wanted to be an architect.  I love to create and build new things.  I guess I’m still doing that now – creating and building… but with words.

3. I’m really into sports.  I come from a family of athletes.  My siblings and I were always involved in some way with sports and for me it was swimming.  I love to swim and I also love ball games, especially football and baseball.  I’m very happy joining my guys to watch a football game on TV but I’m happiest going to the stadium to watch a baseball game.

4. I make a mean hot fudge sundae.  I don’t have a recipe as such to follow, I like to change it up by using different flavors, powders or cream and lots of different chocolates each time so it tastes different every time.  Sometimes it’s really thick and other times, not.  But it’s dang good and my boys love it when I make them!

5. I’m a historical romance junkie.  I love to read books by my favorite authors like Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Joanna Bourne, Stephanie Laurens, and so many others.  Every time I travel or need to unwind, reading historicals is my favorite thing to do.

Thanks, Jane!

Georgia Bockoven's 5 Do's and a Do-Over

Carly's Gift book coverToday's guest: Georgia Bockoven Why we love her: We love the way she writes. Her novels pull you in and hold you tight!

Her latest: Carly's Gift

(Out September 17th!)

The scoop: What's in the past is over and done with . . . or is it?

Sixteen years ago Carly Hargrove made a decision that would irrevocably alter her life. With little comprehension of the life-long consequences of her actions, she trades her own future happiness to protect the man she's loved since kindergarten, David Montgomery.

With an ocean separating them, Carly builds a life for herself without David. She's the mother of three, lives in a beautiful house, and is married to a man who comes home every night—even if most of those nights he drinks too much. What more could she want?

Her answer arrives on a cold fall day when David shows up at her door. In town for his father's funeral, he has come to see Carly one last time, hoping to rid himself of the anger that still consumes him.

Instead, he is drawn into a web of secrets that rekindles the fierce need he once felt to protect Carly. He becomes caught up in her life in a way he never could have imagined—a way that will bind him to her forever.

Our thoughts: A beautiful story!

Giveaway: ONE copy. Just leave a comment to be entered. We'll select the winner on Sunday, September 15th after 12pm PST.

Where you can read more about Georgia: Her website and Facebook.


Georgia Bockoven author photo


DO--hug a tree. I don’t mean this as flippantly as it sounds. If you do it right, you’ll be there long enough to hear a songbird calling, or a breeze rustling the leaves. You’ll feel the texture of the bark against your cheek and smell a woodsy fragrance that, for a moment, sends you back to a childhood where climbing trees made perfect sense. If you’re a writer, and the day ever comes that you write about a young woman fighting to keep the city from cutting down the tree her father planted the day she was born, you can draw on the feelings you had the day you hugged your own tree.

DO--avoid reflective surfaces on a bad hair day. Why would you want to be reminded of something negative that you already know and ruin a perfectly good day? This can be adapted to fit a lot of situations--like deleting from your address book all those crazy-making people who drag you down. Where is it written that you have to spend time with the crazies when you hardly have time for the friends who brighten your day?

DO--expose yourself . . . to new things. (With your clothes on, preferably.) I thought I didn’t like country music until I wrote a book about a country music singer and spent almost an entire year in that world. I was convinced I hated brussel sprouts without ever having tasted one. Come on--a vegetable that looks like a mini cabbage and makes the house smell like dirty socks when it’s cooking? How could this be a good thing? It was, and is.

DO--buy the orchid you saw in the grocery store. If you’re having trouble rationalizing the indulgence, run the numbers. Fifteen dollars over three months works out to sixteen cents a day. A bargain! This works with other purchases, too, like shoes, and jewelry, and for me, cameras.

DO--venture out of your comfort zone. While there’s no way I’m going to take up tight-rope walking--I was born with a really poor sense of balance--I will never forget sitting in the middle of a herd of forty wild elephants, some of them less than ten feet away. Gift yourself with an adventure. Explore. Make a new friend. Live, don’t just exist.


I think Maya Angelou has this one down pat. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Thanks, Georgia!

Colleen Hoover's 5 Best Evers

This Girl book cover imageToday's guest: Colleen Hoover Why we love her: We are big fans of this Slammed series. (This Girl is book #3.) Warning: You will be addicted (if you aren't already).

Her latest: This Girl

The scoop: There are two sides to every love story. Now hear Will’s.

Colleen Hoover’s New York Times bestselling Slammed series has brought countless readers to their knees with a whirlwind of love, passion, and heartache. Layken and Will’s love has managed to withstand the toughest of circumstances, and the young lovers, now married, are beginning to feel safe and secure in their union. As much as Layken relishes their new life together, she finds herself wanting to know everything there is to know about her husband, even though Will makes it clear he prefers to keep the painful memories of the past where they belong. Still, he can’t resist his wife’s pleas, and so he begins to untangle his side of the story, revealing for the first time his most intimate feelings and thoughts, retelling both the good and bad moments, and sharing a few shocking confessions of his own from the time when they first met.

In This Girl, Will tells the story of their complicated relationship from his point of view. Their future rests on how well they deal with the past in this final installment of the beloved Slammed series.

Our thoughts: Love hearing the story from Will's point of view. Genius.

Giveaway: TWO copies! Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, September 15th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact:You don't have to wait long for Colleen's next novel, Losing Hope! It will be out October 8th. Pre-order here!

Where you can read more about Colleen: Her website and Facebook.


Colleen Hoover author photoSong:

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise by The Avett Brothers. Really anything by The Avett Brothers. That particular song holds a permanent place in my heart, though. It's all about taking control of your life. My all time favorite lyric is from that song; it says, "decide what to be and go be it". I think that is the best advice anyone can take.


This is a tough one because there are so many. I think I would have to say The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. It's so perfectly imperfect. It's such a great balance of it's happy, sorrowful, romantic, philosophic, heartbreaking and hilarious all at the same time.


The Jerk! Hilarious. I love it, my kids love it, everyone should love it. If you haven't seen it, it stars Steve Martin and is also co-written by Steve Martin, so that's a recipe for awesomeness. It's definitely a movie that will cheer you up on the even the crappiest of days.

Life moment:

Other than marrying the love of my life and giving birth to my three children? The moment I wrote the words "The End" in my first book, "Slammed". My whole life I knew I wanted to be a writer, but never thought I could. I figured it was a waste of my time because the chances of me getting published were so miniscule. I'm so glad I finally wrote that book. I can honestly say that even if it had ended right then and there with those words, "The End", I would be 100% satisfied with my life just knowing I finally did it.

Piece of advice:

If there is something in life you want to do, just do it. Do it for yourself, not anyone else. I know it sounds cliche, but we only get one life to live, so you have to live it. The Avett Brothers said it best: decide what to be, and go be it! Also, stay away from the cans! (If that last part didn't make sense to you, you need to watch The Jerk.)

Thanks, Colleen!

7 Seconds in Heaven with Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanToday's guest: Kevin Kwan Why we want to spend 7 Seconds in Heaven with him: OMG. Read the book. You'll understand!

His debut: Crazy Rich Asians

The scoop: Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should--and should not--marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.

Our thoughts: Hilarious. Fascinating. Fun. Original. We could go on and on and on.

Giveaway: One SIGNED copy! Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winner after 12pm on Sunday, September 1.

Fun fact: Crazy Rich Asians has already been optioned to be a movie!


Kevin Kwan1. I love being on airplanes when there's lots of turbulence.  Like, the bumpier the better. I get a strange thrill out of it.

2. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist.  I had a fish tank and began to obsessively cultivate a vast array of species.  I started with the basic stuff like goldfish and guppies, but quickly graduated to more exotic fish like African Cichlids of Lake Tanganyika.  At the height of my craze, I had a saltwater tank with a lionfish, a leopard grouper, a Picasso triggerfish, a sting ray, a queen angelfish and an octopus. Then I hit puberty and promptly lost interest in all of it.

3. Call me old fashioned, but one of my pet peeves is men who don't get up from the table whenever a woman arrives or departs, or let the ladies exit the elevator first.

4. One of these days I am going to take up hang gliding.  I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to hang glide over the Grand Canyon at sunset.

5. People rarely see me eating fruits, but that's because most of the fruits I like are tropical fruits not available in the Northern Hemisphere.  Like rambutans, chikus, durians, and my favorite of all, mangosteens.

6. In my next life, I’d like to attend Oxford University. (Although I would want it to be 1912, and I'd have a hard time choosing between Balliol, Christ Church, or Magdalen colleges.)

7. I'd like to live in Naples for a year.  The sheer beautiful chaos of the city, the ancient buildings in various states of crumbling, the insanity of the drivers, it all absolutely fascinates me.  And of course, they have the best pizza on earth.

Thanks, Kevin!

Susanna Daniel's 5 Best Evers

Sea Creatures by Susanna DanielToday's guest: Susanna Daniel Why we love her: We've recently discovered this immensely talented author. Can't wait for her next book!

Her latest: Sea Creatures

The scoop: In Sea Creatures, a riveting domestic drama by Susanna Daniel, a mother must make the unthinkable choice between her husband and her son.

When Georgia Qullian returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake, fallout from her husband’s severe sleep disorder. For months, their three-year-old son has refused to speak a word.

On a whim, Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for a reclusive artist and is surprised at how her life changes dramatically. But soon the family’s challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her decisions have put her only child in grave danger.

Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood.

Our thoughts:  Loved this thought provoking novel. A must-read!

Fun fact: She's the co-founder of the Madison Writer's Studio.

Giveaway: TWO copies! Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll select the winners after 12 pm PST on Sunday, September 1st.

Where you can read more about Susanna: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Susanna Daniel, author of Sea CreaturesBEST BOOK

When I was fifteen years old, I worked part-time in an independent bookstore in South Miami (back then, these were just called bookstores), and read behind the desk between customers. I will never forget the experience of reading MATING, by Norman Rush, which was that year’s National Book Award winner. In the book, an anxious and self-involved postgraduate student crosses the desert in pursuit of the megalomaniacal founder of an all-female utopian society. The plot was absurdly ambitious, but the writing was electric, and I think that was the first time I really understood the concept of narrative drive -- that a strong voice can carry an entire book.


The Royal Tenenbaums -- funny, sweet, poignant, and doesn’t let its quirk overwhelm its humanity. When Ben Stiller’s character says to Danny Glover’s character, “You know, I’m a widower, too,” and Danny Glover says, with tremendous restraint, “I know it, son,” it’s all I can do not to lose it entirely.


Lately I’ve fallen down The National’s rabbit hole, which means I’ve been familiarizing myself with every album relentlessly and repeatedly, almost to the exclusion of all other music in my extensive repertoire. Predictably, I’m big on lyrics, and The National’s songs are poems. ‘Slipped’ has lodged itself in my head in particular: “I don’t want you to grieve but I want you to sympathize.” Honest, simple, gut-wrenching.


I’m supposed to say the moment my husband asked me to marry him, or when my first son was born, or my second, or some last moment of connection before my mother died -- but everything I so cherish (books, life partner, home, children) balances on a moment in 1999 when a woman named Connie Brothers called me at work in New York and offered me a place in the MFA program at the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, a region of the country where I’d never considered living (and now I’m a Midwesterner to this day). I can’t imagine where I would be now if I’d been dumb enough to decline.


This was early-motherhood advice that my editor (mother of two teenagers) gave not to me but to my agent, when my agent was pregnant with her first, and it so perfectly summed up something I believe strongly. She said: When the baby comes, you’re going to want to take care of all of it -- the diapers and the rocking and the feeding and the packing of the bag, all of it -- but you must sit on your hands. Let your partner do it, too. Even if you have more experience and know for a fact that he’s doing it wrong, let him do it and shut up about it unless he asks specifically for your advice or assistance. He’s perfectly capable, and if you take over every time, you’re going to find down the road that you’re doing it all by yourself (and maybe even complaining that he’s not helping). Sit on your hands, and let him develop his own ways of doing things. You’ll be glad in the long run.

Thanks, Susanna!

Carolyn Turgeon's 5 Loves & a Dud

The Fairest of them All book coverToday's guest: Carolyn Turgeon Why we love her: We love that she created a fresh spin on the classic stories of Rapunzel and Snow White. What little girl didn't love fairy tales and that little girl is still very much inside of us!

Her latest: The Fairest of them All

The scoop: In this kingdom, only one fairy tale can end with happily ever after.

In an enchanted forest, the maiden Rapunzel’s beautiful voice captivates a young prince hunting nearby. Overcome, he climbs her long golden hair to her tower and they spend an afternoon of passion together, but by nightfall the prince must return to his kingdom, and his betrothed.Now king, he weds his intended and the kingdom rejoices when a daughter named Snow White is born. Beyond the castle walls, Rapunzel waits in her crumbling tower, gathering news of her beloved from those who come to her seeking wisdom. She tries to mend her broken heart but her love lingers, pulsing in the magic tendrils of her hair.The king, too, is haunted by his memories, but after his queen’s mysterious death, he is finally able to follow his heart into the darkness of the forest. But can Rapunzel trade the shadows of the forest for the castle and be the innocent beauty he remembers?

Our thoughts: A new twist on a classic fairy tale? What's not to love? (Plus, we like that it's a little bit twisted too!)

Fun fact: She went on to graduate school at UCLA, where I studied medieval Italian poetry. (Who knew that was a "thing"?)

Giveaway: Two copies! Just leave a comment to be entered. We'll select the winners on Sunday, August 25th after 12 pm PST.

Where you can read more about Carolyn: Her website, Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.


Carolyn Turgeon author photoLoves


I love everything about rain: the sound of it pattering on a sidewalk or a rooftop or a river, the raw smell of it, the feel of it on the skin, the look of it as it lowers this gauzy veil over everything. I love the massive thunderstorms that used to break everything open when I was a kid in Illinois, where we had a big covered porch that looked over the backyard and where I’d sit with my father and watch it raging down. We only lived there until I was eight, so those memories of sitting on that porch, watching the back yard through that haze of rain, sort of define my childhood for me. I love those hot, tropical mid-afternoon rains in Florida, where my grandparents lived, that last for less than half an hour and leave everything wet and sparkling. I love a chilly autumn day where you sit inside by a fire as the cold rain hammers down, shaking the leaves from the trees. I even named my first book Rain Village, after a lush, magical fantastic place where it always rains. That book isn’t about rain, though, but about a tiny misfit girl who becomes a very glamorous star on the trapeze in an old-time circus and side show. Which leads me to my deep love of…


I spent ten years working on my first novel (on and off) and did a ton of research on circuses so that I could get the details right and imagine what it might be like to be in one. I went to a bunch of circuses and read plenty of books, and I also traveled to some of the big circus towns in the U.S, including Bridgeport, Connecticut (where PT Barnum was from), Sarasota, Florida (where the Ringley Brothers settled), and Baraboo, Wisconsin, where the Ringley Brothers were from and where the Circus World Museum is now. I flew to Baraboo from Los Angeles (where I went to graduate school) and my mother flew in from Pennsylvania to meet me and that first night we heard a bunch of buzzing from across the street from our hotel and we realized that there was a huge county fair going on, complete with funnel cakes and Ferris wheel and a full-on tractor pull. How can you resist a town where county fairs are happening and that’s steeped in circus history? Anyway, I loved researching that book, and I still love the idea of the old-time circus, all that magic and razzle dazzle sweeping into town and then up and leaving a day or two later, as if it’d never been there at all.

Road trips.

There is nothing I like more than being in a car, on the highway, either with friends or by myself, with the whole road stretching out in front and something like Johnny Cash playing and everything just full of possibility. Maybe it’s from moving around so much as a kid, but I love the open road. One summer in my 20s, my sister and I took six weeks to get from New York to Los Angeles and we followed an elaborate route that took us through Dollywood and Nashville and Graceland and down to Dallas, Texas, where we’d lived after we left Illinois and where we remembered the Traildust Steakhouse as being the most magical place in the world, since there was a dance floor where we did the Cotton-Eyed Joe and a slide that swooped down into the dance floor. It was funny, seeing that place with adult eyes, how much it seemed to have shrunk.

Old movie palaces.

I went to high school and college in Pennsylvania and I was this huge film buff who constantly lamented the lack of a real at cinema in my town. When I finally moved to New York City for a brief spell after college, I gorged on movies and loved going to little art houses to see all those indies and foreign films my town never got. But then I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school, a city full of old-time movie palaces. I was dazzled by them, the velvet seats and curtains, the swooping art deco curves, the sheer glamour of all of it. Going to the movie felt like a spectacular event, and I loved that after a day of classes (I was studying Italian literature, of all things, in that surreal city) and teaching I could escape into a dark room with soft chairs and get lost in another world completely.

Scuba diving.

I didn’t grow up around the ocean and always found it sort of terrifying and full of gross things that might bite me. I was also super pale and burned easily and had body issues and so basically avoided beaches and the ocean, and being in a bathing suit generally. But then I wrote my novel Mermaid and ended up creating a mermaid blog, which led to all kinds of experiences and encounters I never could have anticipated, including me in a bathing suit and a mermaid tail participating in mermaid camp at Weeki Wachee Springs. Once I started talking to all these mermaid-loving women, I couldn’t help but want to get in the water myself. A few months after that camp, I got scuba certified. Being 50 feet under the surface of the ocean, surrounded by the most strange, colorful fish, and sharks, and eagle rays, and sea turtles—it’s all just mind-blowing, like being on another planet. Now I have a whole list of places I want to dive and magical creatures I want to encounter!


I am very opposed to parsley, celery, and green peppers, those devilish greens that sneak their way into many dishes and sabotage them completely. It’s not right.

Thanks, Carolyn!


What's in Liz & Lisa's Beach Bag?

Can you all believe it's already August? It's back to school time and Fall is just around the corner? Where the hell did the time go? Well, we don't know about you, but we're clinging to summer for as long as possible. And that means we're lounging and reading as much as possible!  Here are the books we're excited about this month!  

Happy Any Day NowHappy Any Day Now by Toby Devens (Out now!)

The scoop: Every five years my mother had her fortune read by Lulu Cho, owner of the Golden Lotus Massage Club for Men. Now it was my turn. And Lulu predicted one hurricane of a future for me!

Judith Soo Jin Raphael’s childhood was shaped by her hardworking immigrant mother, her father who left them, and her struggles to fit in as a half-Korean, half-Jewish kid in a tough urban neighborhood. But music lessons gave her a purpose and passion. Now, as Judith’s fiftieth birthday nears, she has rewarding work as a cellist with the Maryland Philharmonic, an enthusiastic if uncommitted lover, and a quirky but close relationship with her mother.

Then chaos strikes: Judith’s first love, who dumped her decades ago, returns to dazzle her with his golden pedigree and brilliant career. Her long-absent father arrives out of the blue with a snazzy car and a con man’s patter, turning her mother into a love-struck flirt whom Judith barely recognizes. All this while her mentor at the orchestra falls seriously ill. No wonder Judith develops a paralyzing case of stage fright.

Judith finds herself feeling—and sometimes acting—slightly unhinged, but she’s convinced that happiness will arrive any day now. She’s just got to hold on tight during this midlife shake-up...and claim the prize that life surely has in store for her.

Our thoughts: Refreshing. Witty. The perfect book to read as we say good bye to summer.

You-Knew-Me-WhenYou Knew Me When by Emily Liebert (Out September 3rd)

The scoop: Katherine Hill left her small New England hometown in pursuit of a dream. Now, twelve years later, she’s a high-powered cosmetics executive in Manhattan and a much glossier version of her former self, unrecognizable to her family and old friends. Not that she would know—she hasn’t been home in over a decade.

Laney Marten always swore she’d never get “stuck” in Manchester, Vermont. No, she was destined to live out her glamorous big-city dreams. Instead, she wound up a young wife and mother. That was when her best friend ran out.

When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her—someone she once loved.

Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their long-standing grudges. Through this, they come to understand that while life has taken them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together. But are some wounds too old and deep to mend?

Our thoughts: An emotionally gripping debut novel about the the bonds of friendship. We can't wait for her next!

Fat+Girls+and+Fairy+Cakes+CoverFat Girls & Fairy Cakes by Sue Watson (Out now!)

The scoop: TV Producer Stella Weston is over worked, over weight and under fire. Having battled uphill for years to balance her career with her family life, she is repaid by being put out to pasture on a religious gardening programme complete with a nervous vicar, his nymphomaniac wife, and 22 stone Britney wannabe gardener, Gerald. Miles away from her husband and daughter she somehow turns the show into a comedic triumph, only to once more fall foul of her evil and twisted boss, stick thin MJ. Stella decides enough is enough but soon finding herself husbandless and penniless, she realises discovering the courage to quit is sometimes the easy part. Desperate, Stella throws herself into her one true love, cakes, and asks the question: can you really turn a passion into a profession? What follows is a series of comical disasters, hilarious holidays, failed dates, super cakes, accidents, injuries and near death experiences. Full of spirit, heart and girl power, this is a high quality chick lit novel that will have readers everywhere laughing, crying, and reaching for the mixing bowl.

Our thoughts: So smart. So funny. You will love devouring this novel along with one of the desserts it will make you crave!


Little Island by Katharine BrittonLittle Island by Katharine Britton (Out September 3rd)

The scoop:

Grace Flowers By the water Have fun!

These are Joy’s grandmother’s last words—left behind on a note. A note that Joy’s mother, Grace, has interpreted as instructions for her memorial service. And so, the far-flung clan will gather at their inn on Little Island, Maine, to honor her.

Joy can’t help dreading the weekend. Twenty years ago, a tragedy nearly destroyed the family—and still defines them. Joy, Grace, her father Gar, and twins Roger and Tamar all have their parts to play. And now Joy, facing an empty nest and a nebulous future, feels more vulnerable than ever to the dangerous currents running through her family.

But this time, Joy will discover that there is more than pain and heartbreak that binds them together, when a few simple words lift the fog and reveal what truly matters…

Our thoughts: She had us at "family" and "dark secrets." A juicy novel!

W is for WastedW is for Wasted by Sue Grafton (Out September 10th)

The scoop: Two dead bodies changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.

The first was a local PI of suspect reputation. He’d been gunned down near the beach at Santa Teresa. It looked like a robbery gone bad. The other was on the beach six weeks later. He’d been sleeping rough. Probably homeless. No identification. A slip of paper with Millhone’s name and number was in his pants pocket. The coroner asked her to come to the morgue to see if she could ID him.

Two seemingly unrelated deaths, one a murder, the other apparently of natural causes.

But as Kinsey digs deeper into the mystery of the John Doe, some very strange linkages begin to emerge. And before long at least one aspect is solved as Kinsey literally finds the key to his identity. “And just like that,” she says, “the lid to Pandora’s box flew open. It would take me another day before I understood how many imps had been freed, but for the moment, I was inordinately pleased with myself.”

In this multilayered tale, the surfaces seem clear, but the underpinnings are full of betrayals, misunderstandings, and outright murderous fraud. And Kinsey, through no fault of her own, is thoroughly compromised.

W is for . . . wanderer . . . worthless . . . wronged . . .

W is for wasted.

Our thoughts: Can you believe we'd never read a Sue Grafton novel before? (And yeah, we know she stared this series with "A"...). And we loved it! We were lucky enough to not only get an advance copy of this but Sue signed it for us! She was gracious and lovely and it just made us want to read her books even more.



Amy Gail Hansen's 5 Best Evers

Today's guest: Amy Gail Hansen Why we love her: This debut left us wanting more! We can't wait until her next book.

Her latest: The Butterfly Sister (Out today!)

The scoop on it: A moving Gothic tale that intertwines mystery, madness, betrayal, love, and literature—a fragile young woman must silence the ghosts of her past.

Ten months after dropping out of all-girl Tarble College, Ruby Rousseau is still haunted by the memories of her senior year, a time marred by an affair with her English professor and a deep depression that caused her to question her sanity.

When a mysterious suitcase arrives bearing Ruby's name and address, she tries to return it to its rightful owner, Beth—a dorm-mate at Tarble—only to learn that Beth disappeared two days earlier.

With clues found in the luggage, including a tattered copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own, which Ruby believes instigated her madness, she sets out to uncover the truth.

Our thoughts: A romantic beach read and a thriller--the perfect page-turning combination.

Giveaway: ONE copy. Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll select the winner on Sunday, August 11th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact: Read an excerpt of The Butterfly Sister here >>

Where you can read more about Amy Gail Hansen: Her website, Facebook and Twitter


Amy Gail Hansen author photoSONG

“Take it Easy” by the Eagles. It seems to come on the radio just when I need it most, when I’m far too engrossed in the mundane day-to-day worries of life, and I need a good kick in the pants to lighten up. It’s an instant mood booster, an antidepressant wrapped up in a folksy song with simple yet meaningful lyrics. My favorite line is, “We may lose and we may win, though we will never be here again.” It reminds me to slow down and just live in the moment, which I think is the key to being happy.


Oh, there are so many….I’m tempted to say a classic like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or a more recent title like The Last Will or Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh, which serendipitously connected me with my literary agent, Elisabeth Weed. But I’ll go with a more obscure work, Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. It’s a coming-of-age story about Marjorie Morgenstern, a Jewish girl living in 1930s New York who is on the verge of living an extraordinary life, making it big as an actress and falling hopelessly in love with the enigmatic Noel Airman. I read it first as a teenager and thought the ending was so sad (spoiler alert: she ends up just being an everyday person—oh the horror!)  But when I read it ten years later, after being married and having a child, I thought the ending was happy. Talk about the power of perspective. It’s a reminder that the reading experience is so personalized and unique depending on your age and where you are in life.


Before Sunrise starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, directed by Richard Linklater.  I initially watched the movie because it was filmed almost entirely in Vienna, Austria, a city I fell in love with when traveling Europe for the first time at age 18.  This movie is not for people who want action or car chases or even a complex plot. It’s about two twenty-somethings who meet by chance on a train and spend one amazing day and night together in Vienna, ending on the question: Will they ever see each other again? The whole movie is dialogue, one very long date, and I am enchanted by it every time I watch it. Hawke, Delpy and Linklater teamed up again for a sequel Before Sunset and a third film, Before Midnight, which was just released.


I have three beautiful children, so I have three best life moments, the day each of them was born. I say this for obvious reasons—my children are precious little miracles that make life worth living—but also because birthing them was a very physical and spiritual accomplishment.  I was one of those crazy moms who chose not to have an epidural or pain medication, despite being on Pitocin. I have never experienced worse pain in my life than labor, but I see each birthing experience like running a marathon. Like a long-distance runner, I brought my body and mind to a level I never thought I could. There’s no better feeling.


Never take your wedding ring off. Ever. Not even to wash the dishes or shower or garden. My grandmother-in-law told me this when I first got married and I expressed concern I’d lose the ring. And guess what? It works. I have lost so many things in the almost ten years I’ve been married—including a pair of expensive prescription sunglasses I am still not over losing—but I have not lost my wedding ring.

Thanks, Amy!


Lori Nelson Spielman's 5 Firsts & Lasts

The Life List by Lori Nelson SpielmanToday's guest: Lori Nelson Spielman Why we love her: The premise of her book is so unique! We loved reading every page.

Her latest: The Life List

The scoop: In this utterly charming debut—perfect for fans of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S., I Love You and Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life—one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.

1. Go to Paris 2. Have a baby, maybe two 3. Fall in love

Brett Bohlinger seems to have it all: a plum job, a spacious loft, an irresistibly handsome boyfriend. All in all, a charmed life. That is, until her beloved mother passes away, leaving behind a will with one big stipulation: In order to receive her inheritance, Brett must first complete the life list of goals she’d written when she was a naïve girl of fourteen. Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision—her childhood dreams don’t resemble her ambitions at age thirty-four in the slightest. Some seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other goals (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. As Brett reluctantly embarks on a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams, one thing becomes clear. Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.

Our thoughts: Who doesn't have a bucket list? We loved this charming debut about a woman learns valuable lessons while accomplishing hers.

Giveaway: Two copies! Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, August 11th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact: The film option for the book has already been purchased!

Where you can read more about Lori: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Lori Nelson Spielman author photoFirst: I was a late bloomer, and horrified that I might be ‘sweet sixteen and never been kissed’. Lucky for me, Nick Nicol (yes, the same boy from the book!) saved me from that mortifying plight. He pulled me aside at a party and planted an unexpected kiss on my lips. Then he walked away. It’s the only time in my life I remember actually feeing dizzy from something that didn’t spin.

Last: My husband. This morning. Nice.


First: The first chapter book I fell in love with was The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My third grade teacher read it to our class, and I was completely and utterly captivated.

Last: I just finished The Glass Wives, by Amy Sue Nathan. It’s terrific. The premise is so fresh—an ex-wife takes in her husband’s new wife and child after he dies.


First: As a teen, I was pretty mischievous, but I don’t think I’ll go there! My biggest risk ever, one that I struggled most with, was saying goodbye to a wonderful man who loved me. The feelings just weren’t there. He was the Herbert in my life, if you’ve read The Life List, the man I wish I could have loved.

Last: My latest risk involves live, on-air radio interviews—I’m someone who is terrified of public speaking! Just as I was beginning to breathe during these 15-minute segments, crisis hit. Yesterday, I called into the station three minutes prior to the show, as instructed, and received that annoying message telling me my call could not be completed as dialed. What?! Long story short, I was given the wrong area code! I finally connected with about 90 seconds remaining in the show. The host was ticked, I was a wreck, and my cred was completely shot. So much for that PR blitz!


First: In high school I was voted Best Personality, basically, the equivalent of Miss Congeniality in a beauty contest. Some might prefer the title of Best Body or Prettiest Eyes. But me? I said, “Hell ya!”

Last: Last winter, I approached a local bookseller about doing a book event in July. She was skeptical, saying debut authors don’t draw much of a crowd, it’ll be summer and everybody’s on vacation, yada yada yada. Two days ago, I had the event. It was their biggest debut crowd ever, 100+ people, standing room only. They sold out of books at both their stores. Hell ya!


First: Several years ago I heard Anderson Cooper say that his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, advised him, “Follow your bliss.” This little phrase resonated with me. I immediately thought of my writing, and vowed to follow Gloria’s advice—and my bliss.

Last: Author Julianna Baggott offered this tip to debut authors: “You are not your book.” Since then, I’ve tried to call The Life List “the book” rather than “my book”. Whether it’s wildly successful or withers on the shelf, I am neither a superstar nor a failure.

Thanks, Lori!


Anton Disclafani's 5 Firsts & Lasts

Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls book coverToday's guest: Anton Disclafani Why we love her: Her narrative is addicting, her debut novel is CAPTIVATING.

Her debut: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The scoop: It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Our thoughts: Top book of 2013 for sure--whether you love, hate or totally judge Thea, you won't be able to put this one down.  An Absolute MUST READ. 

Giveaway: Two copies. Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, July 14th after 3pm PST.

Fun fact: She currently teaches creative writing at Washington University.

Where you can read more about Anton: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Courtesy of Nina Subin


First:  A red head (the first and last time I ever kissed a red head.)

Last:  My husband (I hope I can say that for the rest of my life.)


First:  Charlotte’s Web is the first book I can remember reading by myself and loving, in second grade.  My parents, eager to get me reading for life, paid me 10 cents a chapter.  They stopped paying me, but sometimes I think of how much money I could have accumulated if they hadn’t!

Last:  Belle Cora, by Philip Marguiles (it’s out this January).  It’s long, and totally engrossing.  It felt like Deadwood (one of my favorite TV shows) come to life.


First:  Hmm…I was a pretty shy, reserved child, so everything I did felt like a necessary risk.  I remember being particularly scared of the first day of school each year.  It’s still a relief, when September comes around, to know I don’t ever have to go through that again.

Last:  Riding a gigantic horse.  I rode all throughout childhood and adolescence, and then I started again a year ago.  I’m much more aware of how far I am from the ground this time around.


First:  Convincing my mom to buy me the neon pink skirt from Limited, Too, and wearing it to school in second grade.  I was so proud.

Last:  Running three miles without stopping.  I have a love/hate relationship with running, and it took me forever to build up to that distance.  I’m a master at convincing myself not to exercise, so tricking myself into actually doing it feels great.


First:  at 16, walking into a grocery store with my filthy riding clothes on--I was working at a barn that summer. I was so tired I didn't care if people noticed...and, to my surprise, nobody batted an eye. I was pretty shy as a child, and that was the first time I realized that NO ONE cared. It was pretty liberating.

Last: getting on a horse again after ten years. It was scary and amazing and thrilling all at once.


Thanks, Anton!


Meg Waite Clayton's 5 Things I'd Tell the Teen Me

Wednesday Daughters book coverToday's guest: Meg Waite Clayton Why we love her: Her writing draws us in from page one.

Her latest: The Wednesday Daughters (Out July 16th!)

The scoop: It is early evening when Hope Tantry arrives at the small cottage in England’s pastoral Lake District where her mother, Ally, spent the last years of her life. Ally—one of a close-knit group of women who called themselves the Wednesday Sisters—had used the cottage as a writer’s retreat while she worked on her unpublished biography of Beatrix Potter, yet Hope knows little about her mother’s time there. Traveling with Hope are friends Anna Page and Julie, first introduced as little girls in The Wednesday Sisters, now grown women grappling with issues of a different era. They’ve come to help Hope sort through her mother’s personal effects, yet what they find is a tangled family history—one steeped in Lake District lore.

Hope finds a stack of Ally’s old notebooks tucked away in a hidden drawer, all written in a mysterious code. As she, Julie, and Anna Page try to decipher Ally’s writings—the reason for their encryption, their possible connection to the Potter manuscript—they are forced to confront their own personal struggles: Hope’s doubts about her marriage, Julie’s grief over losing her twin sister, Anna Page’s fear of commitment in relationships. And as the real reason for Ally’s stay in England comes to light, Hope, Julie, and Anna Page reach a new understanding about the enduring bonds of family, the unwavering strength of love, and the inescapable pull of the past.

Our thoughts: A layered and rich novel, we love this follow-up to The Wednesday Sisters!

Giveaway: ONE copy. Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winner on Sunday, July 14th at 3pm PST.

Fun fact: Check out this special pre-order offer!

Where you can read more about Meg: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Meg Waite Clayton author photo1. Embrace Your Brains.

Smart girls are sexy, at least to the right kind of guy. And who wants the wrong kind? But more importantly, who you are is going to be a lot more important to you than who your date is—or if it isn’t you are in big trouble.

But while you’re at it, check out that guy sitting next to you in honors math. In twenty years, he’s going to look a whole lot better than some of those jocks, and be much better company. Honestly, he’s a better bet for the prom, too.

 2. Success Starts with Being Willing to Fail.

There is some possibility your mom and dad are already telling you this, but all that Catholic girls-are-meant-to-be-perfect stuff is getting in the way. Perfect is boring, and while success is nice, safe success is nothing compared to taking risks. If you want to be every thing you were meant to be, giving up worrying about failing and reach. It might feel sort of like driving too fast, but you know you like that too.

3. Appreciate Your Neck.

There are so many parts of you that are that you’re missing as you’re appling the benzoil peroxide. I’m sorry to report that the acne is not ever going away. Seriously. You have a beautiful neck.

4. Don’t Ever Think You Can’t.

See #2 above. You won't know how much you can do until you try.

 5. Make Sure “The One” Will Do His Share of the Laundry.

You hate doing laundry already. What makes you think you’re going to like doing twice as much? Any guy who respects you is going to want to do his share of the drudge work. Don’t settle for less.

Thanks, Meg!

2013 Club:Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye

Letters from Skye book coverToday's guest: Jessica Brockmole Why we love her: She has written a captivating debut and we are already anticipating her next!

Her debut: Letters from Skye (Out today!)

The scoop: A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Our thoughts: As not only authors but best friends who live two thousand miles apart, we appreciate the power of the written word. Letters from Skye, told entirely through letters, is a powerful story of love and loss.

Giveaway: 3 copies! (One of them is signed!) Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, July 14th after 3pm PST

Fun fact: Lisa met Jessica last night at a book signing and it made her love the novel even more.

Where you can read more about Jessica: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Jessica Brockmole author photo1. DO'S: 3 things every aspiring novelist should do

Trust, innovate, and listen. Trust in your own passion, then use that passion to fuel writing that makes your heart sing. Listen to those writers who went before you, as their encouragement and advice are invaluable.

2. DON'TS: 3 things every aspiring novelist shouldn't do

Doubt, imitate, give up. Don’t stop believing in yourself or thinking that you have to write to a certain formula. Persevere!

3. MUST HAVES: On your desk?

Stacks of all the research books for my current project. Even if I’m not reading them, I like to surround myself with the history.

On your Facebook feed?

All of my writing friends. To see their news, from publishing deals to the excitement of finishing a draft, inspires me!

App on your phone?

Twitter. Some of the best history stuff is posted before I wake up, and I catch up while doing my morning elliptical.

4. LASTS: Song you listened to on repeat?

Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter. Never fails to pull emotion from me while writing.

Book you read?

The crisply excellent The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell.

Time you laughed?

My kids make me laugh all the time. Do I have to pick just one?

5. HOW MANY: Agents did you query before you found "the one?"

I sent 180 queries out over the course of three books, before I signed with the fabulous Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

Hours do you write per day? Hours do you waste online when you should be writing?

When I find myself doing more of the latter than the former, I give my social media passwords to my critique partner for safekeeping. I do my writing while the kids are off at school, and at night after everyone is in bed.

6. BESTS: Way to celebrate a book deal?

Sleeping in and then going out for the most heavenly lemon ricotta pancakes at a local restaurant. Oh, and bouncing a lot!

Trick to overcome writer's block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block (I don’t want to give myself an out), but when I’m frustrating myself through an idea, I change location and I keep moving. Running, driving, pacing a circle through my kitchen.

Way to think of a book idea?

I am always thinking of book ideas, unfortunately. A footnote in a history book, a dropped storyline on a TV show, a mused “what-if,” all get jotted on index cards and tucked into a drawer. When I’m ready to start a new project, I take all of the cards out and see which ideas fall together to make a book.

7. NEXTS: Show you'll DVR?

I love shows with smart writing and, at times, a healthy dose of irreverence. The next thing I’ll DVR will be one of the shows on USA.

Book you'll read?

I have Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home up next on my Nook. Excited to read it!

Book you'll write?

I’m currently working on a book coming out with Ballantine next summer. Set before and during WWI, it centers around a pair of artists and how the war changes their budding relationship and the world of beauty they once knew.

Thanks, Jessica!


Flash Giveaway! Beth Harbison's Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger book coverGiveaway: One print and two audio copies of Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger (Out today!) The scoop: Ten years ago, Quinn Barton was on her way to the altar to marry Burke Morrison, her high school sweetheart, when something derailed her. Rather, someone derailed her—the Best 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. Quinn, 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.

That relationship didn’t work either. How could it, when Quinn had been engaged to, in love with, Frank’s brother? Quinn opted 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? Told with Beth Harbison's flair for humor and heart, Chose the Wrong Guy will keep you guessing and make you believe in the possibilities of love.

Our thoughts: Funny and highly entertaining--in both the book and audio format--definitely read or listen to this novel when you're at the pool this summer!

Where you can read more about Beth: Her website and Facebook.

Leave a comment to be entered. The winners will be chosen on Thursday, July 11th after 8am PST.


Shelley Noble's 5 Firsts & Lasts

Stargazey Point book coverToday's guest: Shelley Noble Why we love her: She writes the perfect beach reads!

Her latest: Stargazey Point (Out July 9th!)

The scoop on it: Devastated by tragedy during her last project, documentarian Abbie Sinclair seeks refuge with three octogenarian siblings, who live in a looming plantation house at the edge of the world.

South Carolina’s Stargazey Point used to be a popular family beach resort, but the beaches have eroded, most of the businesses have closed, and the crowds have gone. It's the perfect place to hide from the rest of world.

But hiding is harder than she thought it would be. There's a wise Gullah woman who seems to see into Abbie's soul, and an intriguing man on a quest to bring Stargazey Point back to life.

Our thoughts: Loved this story about friendship and starting over.

You should also read Stargazey Nights, the prequel e-novela to Stargazey Point.

Fun fact: Shelley also writes mysteries under the name Shelley Freydont.

Giveaway: Two copies. Just leave a comment to be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Sunday, July 14th after 3pm PST.

Where you can read more about Shelley: Her website and Facebook.


Shelley_Noble_author photoKiss

First: My first kiss was in the cloak room of first grade.  We had just finished Rhythm Band.  I remember because he got to play the triangle and I only had to be happy with the wooden sticks. We’d put our instruments away and had been sent row by row to the get our sweaters and jackets for the playground.  It was fairly dark in the clock room. And I’ll never know whether he actually meant to kiss my cheek, tell me a secret, or what, because as he leaned forward, I turned my head. And our faces bashed together. Luckily it didn’t break someone’s nose.  I should have guessed then that the road to love doesn’t always go as expected.

Last: My last kiss was a twofer. Both my children live across two rivers in Queens and Brooklyn.  They came out to Jersey this past week, both in the same week! And they both kissed me when I dropped them off at the train station to return home.  A perfect culmination of the week.

Book I read

First: My grandmother was pen pals with a lady in England, who always sent me a book for special occasions.  Once when she came for a visit, she also introduced me to toasted pound cake and jam sandwiches.  Yum.  One of the books was a small, beautifully illustrated Sleeping Beauty, the other favorite was the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. They’re both still on my bookshelf!

Last: I just finished The Firebird by Susannah Kearsley. I usually order her books from Canada the minute they’re available, but this year I was so busy with deadlines (yay!) that I didn’t get it until it was available here.  I drove to the bookstore to buy the trade paperback because she always writes the kind of book I want to hold in my hand, read and reread and look at on my bookshelf.

Risk I took

First: I’m not sure whether I actually remember this, or whether it was a bit of exaggeration or a cautionary tale.  But when I was three I would pull a chair over to the refrigerator, climb up so I could open the door, climb down, move the chair closer, then climb up again and steal the butter, which I ate by the stick while still standing on the chair.  Did I think I wouldn’t be caught?

Last: As it turns out, I’m in the middle of a risk taking opportunity.  I’ve been living in the perfect apartment for the last five years.  Now the landlord is selling the house and I’m not loving the new owner.  So I thought, hmm.  Empty nest, work at home,  I could go just about anywhere that I can afford. Uh.  Now what? I’ve been waffling between the town next door, going “down the shore” as we say in Jersey for going to the beach, or even  putting my furniture in storage and taking a year to try different places.  While also keeping a pretty hefty writing schedule?  Maybe the last choice might be more of a pipe dream than an acceptable risk.  I let you know how it turns out.

Aha! Moment

First: My first serious aha moment was the night I arrived at college.  I’m from the south, had always been extremely shy, was seen and not heard, sometimes not seen.  I was very comfortable making up stories in my head.  I also had a very soft southern accent.  I was sitting next to a man (who was not from the south) on the plane and I realized as I talked to him, that I was beginning to sound like him.  By the end of the flight I had changed my accent.  And as I stepped off that plane I realized that if I could change the way I talked, I probably could convince people I wasn’t shy. I could make myself whatever I wanted to be. I’m happy to say I didn’t turn into a con artist but have been a college teacher, a professional dancer and a published author. Every day is a reinvention.

Last: A successful day for me is a lot of a little aha moments. It means I’m paying attention not just going through the day. The kernel of an idea, a blue sky overhead, when I decide not to yell a gypsy curse at the guy who cut me off in the intersection. A few of those each day are enough to make me stop and realize, Wow, how cool is this?

Hell Ya! Moment

First: Before I became an author  I was a professional dancer and toured with several dance companies.  I remember one performance with Twyla Tharp, I think it was Buenos Aires, we were on stage taking our final curtain call.  Bows are taken in full stage light. The “house” lights are dark, so you can only see a few rows of audience.  You listen and feel the response for how much they liked the performance—or not.  But that night, to thunderous applause, the theatre turned on the house lights.  A thousand people, dressed to the nines, were on their feet clapping. They glittered more than we did.  There we were face to face with our own success. There’s nothing like that kind of rush.  Of course we still had to come back and perform again the next day and the next.  But it was definitely a hell ya moment I’ll never forget.

Last: My Hell Ya moment was when my agent and editor both emailed me to say that Beach Colors, my last summer’s women’s fiction, had made the New York Times ebook best seller list. Picture Whoopi Goldberg when she learns she’s the real Santa in the movie Call Me Claus.  It was a hell ya, cool dude, yo mamma moment all rolled into one.

Thanks, Shelley!


2013 Club: Mary Simses' The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe book coverToday's guest: Mary Simses Why we love her: This debut is sweet and charming!

Her debut: The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe' (Out July 9th!)

The scoop: A high-powered Manhattan attorney finds love, purpose, and the promise of a simpler life in her grandmother's hometown.

Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish--to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough. THE IRRESISTIBLE BLUEBERRY BAKESHOP & CAFE is a warm and delicious debut about the power of a simpler life.

Our thoughts: A delicious debut you'll devour! (Say that three times fast!)

Giveaway: TWO copies! Just leave a comment to be entered. We'll select the winners on Sunday, July 7th after 12pm PST.

Fun fact: You can read the first chapter of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe here!

Where you can read more about Mary: Her website, Facebook and Goodreads


Lucien Capehart Photography

DO'S: 3 things every aspiring novelist should do

Start small. I think writing short stories is the best way to get started. Most novelists have done this, including me. Writing a good short story forces you to create and develop a character and take a plot from the beginning to the end in a few pages. It’s also a lot less daunting than writing an entire novel.

Find a fiction writing class and/or writer’s group in your area. What you can learn from others about voice, plot structure, character development, and general story-telling mechanics is invaluable. And other writers can provide so much inspiration. I got back into fiction writing, after a long hiatus, by taking an evening class at a university. That was what really got me going and was probably the most important thing I did.

Write things down – ideas for stories, bits of conversation you overhear, interesting situations you learn of, character names you come up with. Keep a little booklet where you can jot down notes and put it on your bedside table at night. It’s too easy to forget things if they’re not written down.

DON'TS: 3 things every aspiring novelist shouldn't do

Don’t think the fact that you have a regular job means you can’t be a writer. And don’t use that as an excuse not to write. Write whenever you can – at night, on weekends, early in the morning, on busses, on airplanes, on jet skis (well, maybe not on jet skis . . .).

Don’t fall so in love with your words that you can’t be a ruthless editor. It’s important to be able to let go and cut excess verbiage, knowing it’s for the good of the story. Whether it’s legal writing or fiction writing, I’ve found that if I can put the work away for a little while, I can come back to it later with fresh eyes and the will to get rid of what’s not necessary.

Don’t keep your work in a drawer. If you want to get it published, you’ve got to get it out there, whether it’s a short story you’d like to place with a literary magazine or a novel you hope to have accepted by a major book publisher. Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market is a good source of information on fiction markets, agents, and contests. I found it very helpful when I was trying to get short stories published.

MUST HAVES: On your desk? On your Facebook feed? App on your phone?

My writing desk is very small because it’s just a laptop table for my tiny Sony laptop. Although I have a home office, I never write there – that’s where I pay bills and do other more mundane things. I prefer to write in the bedroom, in a nook that has two big windows and a lot of light. I typically have a cup of tea or a cold drink handy, and one of our cats is usually lying near my feet – or in my lap with his paws dangerously close to the keyboard, which sometimes makes for very interesting prose.

Facebook feed. I like to get information on what authors and musicians I admire are doing. Other than that, I’m just happy looking at the photos of graduations, birthday parties, vacations, and dogs-and-cats-doing-cute-things that come in.

Phone apps. Scrabble –I love to play the computer; Shazam – for those emergencies when I can’t identify a piece of music I like; and Pandora – for music in general. I also like to open my Little Piano every now and then and attempt to belt out a tune on its miniscule keys, although it’s tough without sharps and flats. (I used to play the real thing, full-sized and with all eighty-eight keys.)

LASTS: Song you listened to on repeat? Book you read? Time you laughed?

“It Could Happen to You,” performed by Diana Krall. I could put just about anything of hers on repeat – forever. Sultry voice, amazing pianist, and she does all of the old jazz standards I love.

Last Book I read: Hemingway’s Girl. A sweet novel, historical fiction.

Last time I laughed: In the car with my fifteen-year-old daughter and her friends. I began imitating the music they like (which I don’t like), they thought it was funny (you never know, with teenagers), and we all started cracking up.

HOW MANY: Agents did you query before you found "the one?" Hours do you write per day? Hours do you waste online when you should be writing?

Agents: I was very lucky, and mean very lucky here. The author, James Patterson, who is a friend of mine, read my manuscript. He liked it, gave me some wonderful suggestions, and then took the final manuscript to his publisher, Little, Brown, with the caveat that although there was, of course, no guarantee they would publish it, at least they would read it. They did end up deciding to publish it, which was wonderful news. Although I don’t currently have an agent, I may look for one for my next book.

Hours I write: My days aren’t consistent so it’s hard to say. I try to write every day, at least for a little while, but on some days I don’t write at all and on others I write for hours. When I’m not writing, I feel as though I should be writing – not because I feel guilty but because I enjoy doing it so much.

Hours wasted online: I don’t waste too much time on line. Once or twice a week I post things on my author Facebook page, including photographs I’ve taken. (Like my character, Ellen, I’m a inveterate shutterbug.) I keep up with email and I do sometimes surf the net but it’s usually for research on something I’m writing about. Usually.

BESTS: Way to celebrate a book deal? Trick to overcome writer's block? Way to think of a book idea?

Celebrate a book deal: My husband and I celebrated my book deal by having dinner and a great bottle of wine at a restaurant we love. A good friend and author advised me to celebrate all of the little milestones along the way – from getting the book accepted to finishing the edits to receiving the galleys to returning the galleys to receiving the final copies. She said that because the process is so long, by the time the carton of books finally arrives at your front door it’s almost anti-climactic, and that celebrating along the way is really important. Did I do that? Well, a little bit. Probably not enough. It’s good advice though.

Trick to overcome writer’s block: Brainstorm with someone who can give you fresh ideas. Do something other than write – let your mind go on holiday for a while. That’s usually when I’m able to resolve a problem I’m having or when something that’s been muddled begins to gel.

Way to think of a book idea: Eavesdrop on peoples’ conversations, read the newspaper, listen to the radio, look through magazines. Write historical fiction about someone whose life you think was interesting. There are a zillion stories out there.

NEXTS: Show you'll DVR? Book you'll read? Book you'll write?

The HBO show, “Family Tree,” which I think is hysterical. I’m a big fan of Christopher Guest. I love his humor. And I’ve been working with a genealogist on a family tree project myself so I can relate to it. I’ll also DVR Downton Abbey when it comes back on just because it’s such great eye candy.

Book I’ll read –  Atonement by Ian McEwan. Although I’ve read a few of his other books I’ve not yet read that one. I’d also like to reread The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, one of my favorite authors.

Book I’ll write – I’m working on a book about a woman who goes to visit her parents at their family home on the Connecticut  coast and must come to terms with some unfinished business in her past.

Thanks, Mary!