Best fiction of 2012

Catherine McKenzie's 5 BEST EVERS

Today's guest: Catherine McKenzie Why we love her: She writes hilarious and smart novels that make us think.

Her latest: Forgotten

The scoop on it: Emma Tupper is a dedicated lawyer with a bright future. But when she takes a month-long leave of absence to go on an African vacation, she ends up facing unexpected consequences. After she falls ill and spends six months trapped in a remote village thanks to a devastating earthquake, Emma returns home to discover that her friends, boyfriend, and colleagues thought she was dead—and that her life has moved on without her.

As she struggles to re-create her old life, throwing herself into solving a big case for a client and trying to reclaim her beloved apartment from the handsome photographer who assumed her lease, everyone around her thinks she should take the opportunity to change. But is she willing to sacrifice her job, her relationships, and everything else she worked so hard to build?

In Forgotten, Catherine McKenzie tweaks a classic tale of discovering who we really are when everything that brings meaning to our lives is lost.

Our thoughts: From the time we read the premise, we were intrigued. Forgotten turned out to be even better than it sounded. It's now one of our favorite Catherine McKenzie novels!

Giveaway: FIVE copies. Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll select the winners after 3pm on Sunday, October 28th.

Fun fact: Catherine is also a lawyer!

Where you can read more about Catherine: Facebook, Twitter and her website.


If you’ve read High Fidelity—and if you haven’t how come? It’s awesome—you’ll understand when I say that being asked to choose my favorite anything makes me feel like Rob Gordon trying to pick his top five songs of all time. I love so many songs, books, movies etc. that it’s hard to pick just one. So, with that being said, here are …


1. Favorite Book—Jeez. This is really hard. But I’ve said Pride and Prejudice before, so I’ll stick to that. I came to this book relatively late in life—I was one of those Jane-Austen-What’s-All-the-Fuss people. Then I saw Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC version of the book (2nd runner up in favorite movie category), and I fell in love. After having read the book, it became clear that it was one of those perfect book-to-movie adaptations (as is High Fidelity—see, this is hard!), and that I had long misjudged Ms. Austen. I went on to read all her books, including the unfinished ones, and I read them about once a year.

2. Favorite Song—Oh boy. This one is even harder. Seriously. I can’t choose. So here is some of my favorite music to write by: Bob Dylan’s Biograph, Sarah Harmer’s You Were Here, MoZella’s Belle Isle, Eric Hutchison’s Sounds Like This, Matt Nathanson’s Live at the Point (awesome and hilarious). I tend to queue up one of these albums, or sometimes just one song, and play it over and over while I write. It helps me create a rhythm.

3. Favorite Movie—Did I mention this was hard? I think I’ll pick Bull Durham. I can pretty much quote it from beginning to end, and it makes excellent Movie Night viewing.

4. Life Moment—mmm, personal. But a pretty good one was when I got the call about getting my first book deal. And the funny thing? I couldn’t get anyone on the phone to tell them, which is exactly what happens to the main character in Arranged, a scene I wrote before I got my book deal. Do I have magical powers?

5. Piece of Advice—This one’s easy: Make time for the things you love. People always ask me how I have time to practice law and write books. It’s complicated, but simple really: you make time for the things you love. Don’t you? If not, please start doing so immediately.

Thanks, Catherine!


Liz & Lisa

7 Seconds in Heaven with Andrew Shaffer

Today's guest: Andrew Shaffer (a.k.a. Fanny Merkin) Why we love him: He's written a laugh-out-loud funny parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. (And y'all know we don't toss around the LOL's lightly!)

His latest: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey

The scoop on it: Young, arrogant, tycoon Earl Grey seduces the naïve coed Anna Steal with his overpowering good looks and staggering amounts of money, but will she be able to get past his fifty shames, including shopping at Walmart on Saturdays, bondage with handcuffs, and his love of BDSM (Bards, Dragons, Sorcery, and Magick)? Or will his dark secrets and constant smirking drive her over the edge?

Our thoughts: Sometimes it's just about having a good and naughty laugh. Jennifer Weiner said, "Filthy, Disgusting, I loved every word." Our thoughts exactly.

Giveaway: FIVE copies. Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll select the winners on Monday, September 24th after 3pm PST.

Where you can read more about Andrew: Twitter and his website.


Liz & Lisa: We know it was because you were reviewing it, but are you one of the only men to admit to reading this book? Do you think there area lot of closeted male 50 Shades readers out there?

Andrew Shaffer: From what I've seen, 50 Shades is almost exclusively a female phenomenon. Whether they love or hate the book, it's a shared cultural experience for many women—something that's increasingly rare in the fractured entertainment landscape. Most guys don't understand it, and I think that's fine.

I actually warn men not to read 50 Shades, for a couple of reasons. If this is their first romance or erotica novel, they will walk away with a skewed perception of romance genre. There are other books I would recommend they read first. The other issue is that some guys read the books and think, "Does my wife/girlfriend want me to act like this? Does she want me to do this in the bedroom?" The answer: Yes. No. Maybe. Why not ask her what she enjoys about the books, and what she wants in the bedroom?

L&L: Why did you decide to write the parody?

AS: While I was live-tweeting my reading of 50 Shades of Grey, I joked that I would create a publishing wormhole by writing 50 Shades fanfic. I started to serialize a 50 Shades "fanfic"/parody on my blog,, as a joke at first. After 50 Shades of Grey sold for seven figures to Random House, it suddenly became, "How fast can I write an actual full-length parody and get it to my agent?"

L&L: We read that you wrote the manuscript in 10 days. True?

AS: Yes—I had to get the manuscript to my agent quickly, because no one knew how long 50 Shades would remain "hot." (Obviously a lot longer than anyone anticipated!) After it sold, though, I worked closely with my editor at Da Capo Press to get the book into shape. The editing took about two or three months. While other self-published parodies began to appear during this time, I'm glad we spent the time we did to put out the best book possible.

L&L: What was your favorite part of 50 Shades of Grey? Least favorite part?

AS: The sex scenes were well-written. I know that sounds like a typical "guy" answer—but you could just tell how much work James put into those scenes when compared to the rest of the series. By her own admission, she researched BDSM online to ensure it was authentic...but she couldn't check with any college student about the details of college life in 2011? Anastasia is a college senior who has never had an e-mail address, which is just absurd. Little stuff like that got under my skin as a reader.

L&L: You have three twitter handles. We can barely tweet with the one we have. How do you juggle?

AS: I have a couple dozen, actually, but who's counting? Only a few have ever really "taken off." I mainly tweet personal stuff from @andrewtshaffer and publishing world stuff from @evilwylie these days. Twitter is fun, especially for a freelance writer: it's the water cooler. I don't have real-world co-workers, so Twitter fills that hole in my life. The deeper emotional and spiritual holes, though? Not so much help with those.

L&L: The opening line of the book is our favorite. What's your favorite line from the book?

AS: "I've already seen him at what I figured was the depth of his shame, buying a Nickelback CD. Do I want to know how deep his perversions go?"

L&L: Because we couldn't not ask, do you think Ryan Gosling should play Christian Grey? If not, who...

AS: After seeing Gosling in Drive with that hammer, I could totally see him playing Christian Grey, flogger in hand. "Hey, girl...laters."

Thanks, Andrew!




Kathleen McCleary's 5 Things I'd Tell the Teen Me

Today's guest: Kathleen McCleary Why we love her:  Her writing is honest and heartfelt. We've all been where her characters have been. We love that we can relate.

Her latest: A Simple Thing

The scoop on it: When Susannah Delaney discovers her young son is being bullied and her adolescent daughter is spinning out of control, she moves them to remote, rustic Sounder Island to live for a year. A simple island existence—with no computers or electricity and only a one-room schoolhouse—is just what her over scheduled East Coast kids need to learn what's really important in life. But the move threatens her marriage to the man she's loved since childhood, and her very sense of self.

For Betty Pavalak, who moved to Sounder to save her own troubled marriage, the island has been a haven for fifty years. But Betty also knows the guilt of living with choices made long ago and actions that cannot be undone. The unlikely friendship between Susannah and Betty ignites a journey of self-discovery for both women and brings them both home to what they love most. A Simple Thing moves beyond friendship, children, and marriages to look deeply into what it means to love and forgive—yourself.

Our thoughts: A moving story about friendship and forgiveness.

Giveaway: FIVE copies! Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll randomly select the winners on Sunday, August 5 after 3PM PST.

Fun fact: At age 12 she was briefly considered for the lead role in “The Exorcist,” until her mother found out what the movie was about. (Her mom had a friend who was a casting agent.)

Where you can read more about Kathleen: Twitter, Facebook or her website.


1. No one is really paying that much attention. Do you know how self-conscious you feel? How shy? Let it go. Really. Everyone around you is busy thinking their own thoughts and worrying about the minutiae of their own lives. They don’t notice your pimples (well, okay, maybe that one giant one in the middle of your forehead) or your bad hair days or your bowlegs or that stupid thing you said at a party three weeks ago. And if they do notice all that stuff and tell you about it, they’re not worth your notice. Let them go.

2. Hang on to that friend. Your girlfriend across the street, the one you share most things with, including your biggest crushes, a love of Motown music, and your first taste of alcohol? She’s a keeper. She’ll be the maid of honor in your wedding; you’ll care for her oldest daughter while she’s in the hospital giving birth to baby number two, she’ll cry with you when your father dies, and you’ll still laugh so hard every time you get together that your face hurts. Friends like that don’t come along too often. When you run across one, hang on to her as though your life depends on it. Someday, it will.

3. You get better with age. I’m not kidding. That baby fat will drop away. You’ll lose those chubby cheeks and that awkward way of standing with both arms crossed over your stomach (which believe me, is flatter than you think). You’ll figure out that you are at least as smart as everyone else. You won’t be afraid to express your opinions, to admit it when you’re wrong, or to apologize. You’ll be great at things you never dreamed you’d be good at, like soothing a fussy baby and writing and doing handstands (no kidding!). You’ll learn to love your body for what it can do, and not hate it for what it doesn’t look like. You’ll laugh more easily and without self-consciousness. You’ll understand with your whole being how important it is to be kind. You’ll understand that this is what true beauty is about.

4. It’s okay to be a book nerd. Keep reading. I know you spend a lot of time alone in the library. You know what? One day, you’re going to write books that will sit on those shelves. It’s your little shot at immortality. Grab it.

5. You are worthy. Of attention, of respect, of love, of understanding, of forgiveness—from yourself most of all. You’re a keeper, too. Take care of yourself. Be kind.

Thanks, Kathleen!


Liz & Lisa



Joy Castro's 5 Things I'd Tell the Teen Me

Our guest today: Joy Castro Why we love her: We love discovering a new, talented author!

Her latest: Hell or High Water 

The scoop on it: Nola Céspedes, an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune, finally catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length feature. While investigating her story, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in the French Quarter. As Nola’s work leads her into a violent criminal underworld, she’s forced to face disturbing truths from her own past and is confronted with the question: In the aftermath of devastation, who is responsible for rebuilding what's been broken?

Vividly rendered in razor-sharp prose, this haunting thriller is a riveting journey of trust betrayed—and the courageous struggle to rebuild. Fast-paced, atmospheric, and with a knockout twist, Hell or High Water features an unforgettable heroine as fascinating and multilayered as New Orleans itself.

Our thoughts: We were completely engrossed in this thriller & loved that it was set in New Orleans.

Giveaway: FIVE copies! We'll randomly select the winners on Sunday, July 22 after 3pm PST.

Fun Fact: She also writes memoirs, short fiction and  poetry.

Where you can read more about Joy: Twitter, Facebook and her website.


1. It was not about you.  I came from a rocky background that included domestic violence, poverty, prison, cultish fundamentalist religion, child abuse and neglect, and eleven different homes by the time I was fourteen.  When I was a kid, I thought the lack of care meant something about my worth.  It took a long time to realize otherwise.

2. A boy cannot provide the love you need.  Nor can anyone or anything else.  Not friends, not the praise of teachers, not a bottle, and not a drug.  “You save yourself or you remain unsaved,” writes Alice Sebold in her memoir Lucky, and she’s right.

3. Having a baby at 20 will not end your dreams.  It will give you new ones.  Your son’s wonderment at the world will reawaken your own, and his sweet innocence will help you see what you yourself must have been like as a child, instead of what you were told you were.  Later in life, you’ll be a foster mother to a damaged teenage girl, and you’ll know how to make a difference.

4. Not all men cheat.  Just because your father was a serial philanderer doesn’t mean that all men are.  Your husband won’t be, and even though it will be hard to trust him, it will be worth it.  You’ll have a long, happy marriage that will be both more difficult and more beautiful than anything you could have imagined.  Happy endings are real.

5. Have more fun.  Relax.   You’re right to believe in education and hard work; they’ll be your ticket out of poverty and dysfunction.  But when you work too hard for too long, life loses its joy.  Notice the beauty around you.  Take time to just be.  Hope and imagination are the most powerful forces in the world.  Believe.  Trust.

Thanks, Joy!



7 Seconds in Heaven with...Matthew Quirk

Today's guest: Matthew Quirk His debut: The 500

Why we love him: He knows how to write for men and women!

The scoop: A year ago, fresh out of Harvard Law School, Mike Ford landed his dream job at the Davies Group, Washington's most powerful consulting firm. Now, he's staring down the barrel of a gun, pursued by two of the world's most dangerous men. To get out, he'll have to do all the things he thought he'd never do again: lie, cheat, steal-and this time, maybe even kill.

Mike grew up in a world of small-stakes con men, learning lessons at his father's knee. His hard-won success in college and law school was his ticket out. As the Davies Group's rising star, he rubs shoulders with "The 500," the elite men and women who really run Washington -- and the world. But peddling influence, he soon learns, is familiar work: even with a pedigree, a con is still a con.

Read an excerpt here.

Our thoughts: We loved The Firm and have been waiting for another author to take us on an equally suspenseful and page-turning ride. PS: We were SO THRILLED Matthew agreed to be our guest today to answer our 7 "burning" questions. We love the story behind his author photo & the fact that he loves strong women!

Fun fact: The 500 has already been optioned to be made into a movie and has been translated into 20 languages. Did we mention this is his DEBUT?

Giveaway: 5 copies! Just leave a comment and be entered to win. We'll randomly select the winners after 6PM PST on Sunday, July 29.

Where you can read more about Matthew: Facebook, Twitter and his website.


Liz and Lisa:This is your debut novel and has already been compared to The Firm, been translated into 20 languages and is in development to be made into a movie by 20th Century Fox. What's been the biggest surprise to you about the success of The 500?

Matthew Quirk: Everything about the book’s reception has been a wonderful surprise. You always daydream about this sort of thing in the long years when you’re working on your writing without recognition. But for it to actually happen is just mindblowing. I was hoping to be able to write books as a day job. That was the dream. The rest is beyond everything I hoped. I had lost my job as a reporter at The Atlantic and my then-fiancée, now-wife was incredibly supportive, adamant actually, that I go for it (I dedicated the book to her). I wrote The 500 at a folding table in the little one-bedroom apartment where she and and I were both working from home. I finally sold the book a month before our wedding, just when I was running out of time on the whole writing experiment. Talk about suspense!

If I had to pick the most surprising element, it would be how receptive the film and publishing people are to a first-time author and how quickly it all happens. People often think of those industries as being really tough to break in to, and they are, but they are always looking for good stories and if they find something they like, it doesn’t matter who you are, they’ll snap it up. One day I had this giant word document on my computer and the next week it was shooting around Hollywood and people were makings bids on it from restaurants in Malibu. It’s nuts.

L&L:  What's the story behind the title of the book? The cover?

MQ: The 500 refers to the 500 most powerful people in Washington, most of whom have a relationship with the Davies Group, an extremely powerful DC consulting/lobbying firm run by a power broker named Henry Davies. Mike Ford, a guy with a shady past who has spent years working to earn a respectable life, puts himself through Harvard Law and lands a job at the Davies Group. He learns the ways of power in Washington, and soon enough, learns the secret behind Henry Davies’ power.

It was fun to mine all the real Washington grit I’d learned working as a political reporter in DC and put it to work in the service of a fast-paced, twisting plot like the kind I love to read.

I think the publisher and designer, Ploy Siripant, did an amazing job on the cover. Many of the foreign publishers are using the same design. There’s not too much of a story to it, which I think is its strength. I like that it’s not the usual DC thriller cover, you know, a guy with a briefcase running for his life with the Washington monument or the Capitol Dome in the background. I think it fits the book well, because hopefully The 500 will satisfy hard-core political thriller fans while standing out of the crowd a little because of the narrator’s voice, the humor, the characters, and the love story.

L&L:  We're women. A lot (make that most) of our readers are women. Why should women read your novel?

MQ: I love strong women, and I tried to make sure that the women in this book didn’t fall into any outdated thriller clichés. Mike Ford’s love interest, Annie Clark, is a badass: smart and strong and independent and successful. And there’s a fun love story in this as she and Mike fall for each other and take turns saving each other’s butts. Mike can definitely hold it down as a tough guy, but he’s also thoughtful and able to laugh at himself. I did have “chick lit” tropes in mind for one scene where, believe or not, a pair of Jimmy Choo slingbacks play a key role in some serious action. A good book appeals to everyone. I was shooting for a novel that above all, was fun to read and hard to put down, one of those books where you say, “oh my God, it’s one am. I should go to bed…maybe one more chapter.” A few people have written me notes saying the book kept them up way too late. That always makes my day.

L&L: Your book was recently written up in Entertainment Weekly's Must List and received an "A." What entertainment is on your must-list?

MQ: Breaking Bad. I can’t wait for the final season. That show is such a great mix of smart action, character, and humor. I’m loving Veep, too. It can be a little cynical, but it nails a lot of the petty, mundane aspects of political life you don’t see on the West Wing. I’ll talk more about books below, but a great, great book that everyone should read is Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. It’s hilarious. I need to go back and re-read all of his novels.

L&L: When not living and breathing your current book tour, what do you that has nothing to do with books or writing?

MQ: Going out with friends, cooking with my wife, hiking and cycling and skiing and sailing. You never know what will end up going into the books, though. I wrecked my knee skiing last year, a pretty harrowing accident where I tumbled down some steep chutes and ended up alone in the trees with a torn ACL fifteen minutes before the mountain shut down. The last thing I was thinking about was writing, of course, but I’m sure it helped. Periodically scaring the living daylights out of yourself is a good thing to do if you write thrillers.

L&L: What's something we'd be surprised to know about you?

MQ: People who have only seen the author photo are usually surprised when they meet me in person. When I was setting up my headshots, I looked at a bunch of thriller authors and said, Ok, industry standard is the total badass look. But when I’m hanging out with people, I’m usually laughing and smiling. When I went to meet the Dutch publishers for a book event in Amsterdam, the women who first met me, who had only seen the photo, greeted me by saying, “Oh! I thought you would be taller…and more regal.” It was hilarious.

L&L: What are you reading right now?

Tailor of Panama, by John Le Carré I’ve been reading a lot of Le Carré recently. As a former intelligence officer, he really knows what he’s talking about and as a stylist he can hold his own with most any literary author. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead is great, as is Dare Me by Megan Abbot. And then I have a big stack of books on my desk about prison security, lock-picking, safe-cracking, corporate espionage, and political corruption. It’s all research for the sequel to The 500, which I’m wrapping up now. I’ve always loved research and reporting and am glad I get to do it for the novels.

Thanks, Matthew!


Liz & Lisa