Rachel North finds herself in a precarious situation, interning for Assistant DA Martha Gardiner, the nemesis of her defense lawyer husband Jack Kirkland, who warns his wife about the woman’s sketchy tactics to win at all costs. Gardiner in turn hints to Rachel of her husband’s ulterior motives, placing Rachel in a quandary as to whom she can trust. Gardiner then thrusts her into a cold case, the death of a young woman who worked under Rachel in her previous incarnation as a Senator’s Assistant. Alternating between the present and the past, Phillipi Ryan develops an intriguing, complex tale of trust, relationships, and marriage, and how a person’s breaking point can lead to murder. Fans of Andrea Bartz’ “The Lost Night” and Megan Goldin’s “The Escape Room” will appreciate the writing style and the wild ride to the finish. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this compelling murder mystery from the publisher through NetGalley.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, inspirations, etc.
Calling what I do a process makes it sound far more organized than it actually is. What I really do that creates success for me is a two step process: I meditate, and I write a small amount every day. Reality means I’m usually writing a lot most days, but the trick is I promise myself I can quit any time after the first, say, five hundred words. I never want to quit after five hundred words.
As for environment, I used to be finicky and say it had to be a certain level of quiet or comfort, or there had to be this and that to write. Now I write wherever I am, so long as there’s no one talking to me. I can edit with a room full of children cavorting around me and begging for bananas on toast, but for the writing itself, I still need to be left alone.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including who does what when and what marketing you do.
I don’t have a final draft. I have the best I can do in the time I have, and that is what goes to the publisher, and that is what they copyedit and proof and eventually print. But I am still editing in my mind for all eternity. When I read aloud from my work at events, I edit it as I go. So readers are hearing the best version of the book for that day in that moment. I guess I could never be my own audio narrator!
As for marketing, I try to be very flexible about this. My real job is writing and that’s how I prioritize, but I am proud of my work and want to share it. As such, I spend most of my “marketing” time chatting with excellent and active readers. I try to be open about my successes and my foibles in the world with anyone who asks, and I talk about my favorite books in the moment so that the readers who follow me never run out of good books.
Describe your support system—online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders—and how did you become a Tall Poppy?
When I talk about authorial support (outside my immediate family and dear friends who support me because they love me, books or no,) I am talking almost exclusively about the Tall Poppies. This is a marketing collective in the main, but the side effect is a network of professional colleagues who believe in the same principles as I do. Namely, we all believe, with grace and gratitude, that there is room at the top, and we mean to get everyone there together. We only see each other in real life once a year, so the rest of the time, we are connecting virtually, and I think that is probably one of the only reasons I don’t throw my phone off a cliff.
How does your life influence your writing and vice versa?
They are inextricable. This is the difference between my job and most other professions. I cannot leave my writing behind when I “come home” from work, and I do not pretend that what is happening in my life doesn’t shape my writing. When I have a problem to work out, or a question about life, or a hearts desire, I write it into a book. That said, I don’t write about people I know. Even if I tried, my characters wouldn’t stand for it. They are utterly themselves.
What do you love most about your creativity?
While I’m very very grateful to be able to write books for a living, I do not quite understand how it came to pass that the creative life won out over my pragmatism. I did well in my physics and calc classes in college and probably would have been just as happy in any creative problem solving profession. The thought of a vested retirement plan makes my heart sing. Also, I always thought it would be great to be a mail carrier.
But here I am writing away, and my favorite thing about it is that even though I am a comic writer, according to my reviews, I have no concept of what it is that I write that is so funny. I just write the most emotionally honest stories I can manage, and then my editors come back to me with all these LOL comments and I think, oh, ok, great. In real life this is very weird because when I say something that comes out funny, I get really excited and say stuff like, “Oh! That was funny!” or laugh at my own jokes.
That anyone hangs out with me at all is the real comedy.
Connect with Kelly:
Wife. Mother. Breadwinner. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is doing it all—and barely keeping it together. Meanwhile, her best friend, Jenny Sweet, appears to be sailing through life. As close as the two women are, Jenny’s passionate marriage, pristine house, and ultra-polite child stand in stark contrast to Penelope’s underemployed husband, Sanjay, their unruly brood, and the daily grind she calls a career.
Then a shocking tragedy reveals that Jenny’s life is far from perfect. Reeling, Penelope vows to stop keeping the peace and finally deal with the issues in her relationship. So she and Sanjay agree to a radical proposal: both will write a list of changes they want each other to make—then commit to complete and total honesty.
What seems like a smart idea quickly spirals out of control, revealing new rifts and even deeper secrets. As Penelope stares down the possible implosion of her marriage, she must ask herself: When it comes to love, is honesty really the best policy?
Penelope believes her life as a wife and mother inferior to her always perfectly put together friend Jenny, whose daughter is just as seemingly pristine as her mother. She is blindsided by the tragedy of her friend’s life, causing her to re-evaluate her own marriage and motherhood. Pagan brilliantly portrays the chaos that is raising children, with an opening scene of Penelope in the bathroom asking if she will ever have a moment of peace. The disconnect between spouses blares from the pages as they discuss who’s to blame for the lack of toilet paper, and Penelope notes that Sanjay barely looks at her to confirm that her appearance is satisfactory. Her re-evaluation puts them on a bumpy road back to each other and a cohesive family unit. Pagan juxtaposes the consequences of social comparison and lack of connection with an ever-increasing social problem in a credible and empathetic manner. This story is a reminder to pay closer attention to the ones you love. It’s a 5-star lesson in life.
Connect with Camille:
Edward surprises Kara with the bicycling-around-the-world trip she’s been planning for years, failing to inform her that it’s a flight response from being let go from his position and blacklisted in the financial sector. On the US leg of the tour, Edward is offered a job by a host, who insists on an earlier starting time than Kara’s expected two years, forcing Edward to speed up their trip without explanation. In alternate chapters, Italian Alessio and Japanese Hirosama have traveled to the present from earlier centuries and are connected to Kara, as are the Native American and French-Canadian Edward and Kara came across in the American Midwest. Alessio works for Hirosama in Florence as Edward rushes Kara through Europe. In Florence, things reach a breaking point when Kara’s life is endangered and Edward must make a life-changing decision. Walsh portrays well a marriage unraveling from Edward’s hidden agenda, and the confusion wrought by a supernatural experience. While the paranormal aspect brings intriguing elements, it’s superfluous, as Edward’s subterfuge provides a sufficient story arc, and those elements are not explored. However, they could make for an interesting series, with sequels going deeper into the stories of Allessio, Hirosama, the French-Canadian, and the Native American. Dear reader could then find out what happened to the Native American, who was but a footnote in this tale. I received a digital copy of this fascinating story by the publisher Snoke Valley Books through a Goodreads giveaway.
“The ring, please.” Father Monahan turned to Jeffrey, whose gaze sent everyone’s eyes to the back of the room. Whatever he was looking at was not apparent, and all returned their attention to the couple.
“Jeffrey,” the groom stage-whispered angrily at his best man. He couldn’t be bothered right now that his lifelong friend’s unrequited love hadn’t shown. For god’s sake, it was his wedding. If Jeffrey ruined it, their friendship was in question. It had been faltering ever more as this obsession had grown.
Laila slowly opened the heavy church door, hoping for a quiet entrance. She was late, hadn’t been expecting to come at all. Susanna had begged her to come. Her little sister’s wedding was a must, but she understood that HE would be there. They agreed that no one wanted the commotion that would ensue from her presence. Yet she desperately wished to see her baby girl she helped raise marry the man of her dreams. The door squeak echoed around the three-stories’ tall ceiling. Acoustics were fantastic in here—as a singer, she was impressed. Then all eyes turned again to the back of the room.
Halfway up, Laila’s ex-husband Henri sat with two of their children, both of them excited about baby sister as flower girl. Upon seeing Laila in the doorway, with sunlight haloing her auburn hair, he stood up, snapped his fingers for the kids to follow, and headed to the door. As he walked down the aisle, he heard a gasp from the front, but didn’t turn to find out from who. In his peripheral vision, he noted a tall man in black on the left get up and head in the same direction. He did not want to know who this guy was. Henri reached back for his children. The sound of little feet running behind him assured him that all his kids were coming.
Maddie fell hard for Ian, British security detail, when she taught English in Bulgaria and her BFF Joanna was a humanitarian working in Macedonia before and during their civil war. He’s hard to pin down, even after she marries him despite Joanna’s inexplicable hostility toward him. He insists on moving from NYC to her small, Kansas hometown, though he spends much of his time in the Eastern bloc, working in a security business he started with his brother after leaving his government position. The story unfolds in layers as it goes back and forth in time and around the globe to explain the horrible murder. Ward does an excellent job evoking sympathy for Maddie, who appears to be on the receiving end of Ian’s PTSD. This novel portrays young American idealists who get caught up in tragedy, differences in maturity levels of best friends, and how lack of self-awareness contributes to obfuscation, as a mismatched romance leads to its horrifying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive this brilliant story from the publisher Park Row Books through NetGalley.
A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
New England Symphony violinist Olivia Klein Van Doren destroys her husband’s Porsche after he places her mother’s house in financial jeopardy. For her community work, she chooses to volunteer in the class of an inner city high school music teacher, who is the key to her secret, and a lifeline to someone from her past.
Spinella excels at complex characters—Olivia is less endearing than interesting, and yet elicits sympathy. She also presents a marriage of larger-than-life personas who have developed a unique, symbiotic relationship, which does not preclude financial disaster, and survives volatile behavior. The story hinges on Olivia’s ability to finally communicate her needs and be honest with loved ones. A novel by a talented writer inevitably includes a life lesson or two, and a huge takeaway from this one, beyond communication being key, is foregoing judgment on what appears to be obvious. Plus, it’s a good story! I won this novel in a giveaway on Facebook and fell more in love with this author.
Moloka’i told the story of Rachel Utagawa, nee Kalama, who lived in the Kalaupapa lazaretto from age 7 when she was diagnosed with leprosy. This book follows her daughter Ruth’s life, from the moment she was taken away from Rachel and her husband Kenji, for her health’s sake. Dear Reader watches her adoptive parents choose her, the half-Japanese, half-Hawaiian 5-year-old at the orphanage, sees her come of age on a California farm, and witnesses her incarceration in the Japanese internment camps in the US during WWII, along with her parents, brothers, husband, and children. This novel connects with the first one when Ruth meets Rachel, in the same scene from Ruth’s perspective this time, a brilliant and heartening re-telling of an emotionally charged meeting.
Brennert traverses the nuances of racism, fear of contagion, and human rights as he tells of the horror of being found out as a victim of leprosy in late 19th / early 20th century Hawai’i, and the dread of a child separated from her family to live with strangers. As with especially well-written historical fiction, the setting of Hawai’i / Moloka’i becomes its own character, showing Hawai’i’s children growing up surfing, the US stealing the islands from the last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, and the evolution of the lazaretto. Brennert touches upon Hawai’ian and Japanese honor, race relations and the lack of internment camps for Japanese in Hawai’i. He digs deep into Hawai’ian folklore, with a supporting character who is a native healer, how the “separating sickness” destroys families, and how friendship blends into family.
I was fortunate to receive a copy of this beautiful novel from St. Martin’s Press. I highly recommend reading Moloka’i for full immersion into the multi-generational story.
Liza witnesses, via Skype, a masked man entering her friend’s home while her friend is upstairs tending to a child. She drives all night to make sure she’s okay after her friend doesn’t answer the phone, but Molly, the friend, dismisses the idea that a man came into her house, and she break’s Liza’s heart. Returning home to a life-changing event sends Liza back to her hometown, where no investigation is proceeding for the mystery man. Strawser digs deep into the fears of a married couple in multitudes of trouble, the evolution of friendship, and a reluctant return to one’s roots. She brilliantly intertwines the consequences of the characters’ actions as they rush headlong into premature conclusions. This novel is a great look into love resurrected and the ability to access romantic love after a trauma. Strawser is a talented storyteller. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book from the publisher Macmillan through NetGalley.