On the night Cassie Hanwell received the Austin Fire Department’s Valor Award—the youngest and first female—for saving children from a sinking school bus, the unexpected presenter takes her back to the night that formed her opinion of love and family. Her award night again changes her life drastically, returning her reluctantly to family and more than one potential disaster. Center’s skills draw readers into the lives of her complex and deeply flawed characters, causing at least this reviewer to gasp out loud multiple times at wondrous and astonishing events. She brings tears with realistic emotional turmoil and unforeseen joy. Fans of Ann Garvin, Camille Pagan, and Liane Moriarty will appreciate Center’s writing style, sense of humor, and credible, relatable characters. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy 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.
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Dr. Trisha Raje brings modern day morés and an introverted personality to this Austen classic as she subconsciously creates problems from miscommunication. Unexplored emotions and hesitance toward introspection lead Dr. Trisha to misadventures. Dear Readers watch her spar with the sexy caterer, whose mother’s favorite book inspired her to name him Darcy—he goes by DJ. She attempts to reconnect with her family, guilt-ridden by a long ago transgression of her friend, who has shown up recently to lure in the caterer. Dr. Trisha remains focused on his sister, her patient, how she can aid her in reframing her outlook toward her future as an artist without sight. Dev’s work is, as usual, lush and gorgeous and emotional and sexy as hell, with complex, realistic characters in complicated situations in which they must untangle themselves, eventually giving in to intense feelings. A brilliant storyteller, she carefully weaves into a well-known story a contemporary character, her Indian-American culture, and a romance inspired by, well, gourmet food. Of course. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful story through Edelweiss.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award winning author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after. Her books have been on NPR, Washington Post, Library Journal, and Kirkus Best Books of the year lists, but Sonali is most smug about Shelf Awareness calling her “Not only one of the best but also one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” Sonali lives in Chicagoland with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find more at sonalidev.com.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A terrible tragedy unleashes a fateful chain of events for two families from starkly different worlds in a breathtaking new tale of suspense that doubles as a razor-sharp take on class conflict in today’s America.
In his remarkable debut, THE EAST END (Park Row Books; May 7, 2019; $26.99 U.S./$33.50 CAN.), novelist Jason Allen constructs a multi-layered story about the powerful and the powerless, about love and loss, and about self-destruction and the possibility of redemption. Set in the Hamptons over one explosive holiday weekend, this immersive must-read illuminates both sides of the socio-economic divide in a place where dreams of escape drive potentially catastrophic decisions.
Unfolding from multiple perspectives, THE EAST END opens with the countdown to Memorial Day underway and recent high school graduate Corey Halpern in need of a fix. A townie, he burns off his resentment of the affluent “invaders” who flock to the community in the summer months by breaking into their lavish mansions and pulling harmless pranks. Staring down a bleak future, he sees his hopes of going away to college vanishing. He can’t disappear, not when his troubled mother, Gina, is barely making ends meet, trying to get away from an abusive, deadbeat husband, and chasing pills with too much booze. Trapped in a downward spiral, she staggers towards rock bottom as Corey and his brother look on helplessly.
Before calling it a night, Corey makes one last stop at the sprawling lakeside estate where he and Gina work. There he intends to commit his first-ever robbery but nothing proceeds according to plan. Married billionaire CEO Leo Sheffield shows up to his ultra-exclusive Gin Lane property early, accompanied by his handsome, much-younger lover, Henry. In an instant, everything changes: Drunk, high, and all alone, Henry is the victim of a fatal poolside accident. Unfortunately for a distraught Leo, Corey saw what happened—and so did someone else.
For this immensely privileged man who is not used to getting his hands dirty, his very existence now depends on containing the collateral damage. And time is running out. Leo’s overbearing wife and three grown children will be arriving soon, along with a house full of high-maintenance guests. Desperate to preserve his fortune and his freedom, Leo takes irrevocable steps that expose him to scandal and far worse. Over the next few tension-filled days, hidden entanglements, unexpected opportunities, and clashing loyalties propel Corey, Gina, and Leo to extremes—and ultimately, to shocking outcomes no one will anticipate.
Atmospheric, emotionally probing, and complexly unmissable, this kaleidoscopic narrative plunges its brilliantly realized characters into timely, all-too-relatable moral quandaries that defy easy answers and resound long after the final page.
Corey breaks into the houses of the wealthy who summer in the Hamptons, to play pranks on them as a way to vent his frustrations as a local serving these “invaders.” The night he chooses to enter the home of his mother’s employer Mr. Sheffield, he learns a scandalous secret and witnesses a tragedy, and then he falls in love. The weekend brings a multitude of challenges for the Sheffield family and Corey’s mom, who’s fighting a drug addiction and a violent ex, as well as Corey and his new love. Allen brilliantly portrays the blurred lines of integrity and honesty for the haves and have-nots in a scenario that flips dependency from one to the other and exposes everyone’s agenda. No character is truly endearing, nor is any character wholly evil, but all are complex, self-serving and compassionate in turn. Fans of “Somethings in the Water,” “Beautiful Bad,” or “Hunting Annabelle” will appreciate this story. It’s a peek at what we might do if we had the chance, and what happens when we involve ourselves in something that’s not our business. I received a digital copy of this fantastic story from Park Row Books through NetGalley.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A Meditation on Fire. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.
At her local drugstore, Amy Byler runs into her husband, who went on a business trip to Hong Kong and stayed for three years. He’s returned to make things right and be the father his children deserve. School Librarian Amy signs up to present her reading program at a conference in NYC, where she plans to reconnect with her college roommate, during the kids’ week with their father. She meets a hot librarian, makes a new friend, and starts a movement. Harms cleverly uses the modern-day epistolary of email and texting in this humorous exploration of a single mom becoming her own woman. Fans of Ann Garvin, Katherine Center, and Kerry Anne King will appreciate Harms’ voice. I received a digital copy of this wonderful story from Lake Union through NetGalley.
What happens when an overworked, underappreciated single mother of two
gets an opportunity to spend a week away from reality in NYC? What
happens when that week turns into an entire summer? And, what happens
when this rare gift of personal freedom, self-reflection, and fun comes
to an end?
These are the questions at the heart of former editor and literary agent Kelly Harms’ delightful and empowering new novel, THE OVERDUE LIFE OF AMY BYLER (Lake Union Publishing; May 1, 2019; hardcover), about a middle-aged woman’s much-needed Momspringa.* Full of wit, heart, bookish-references, and romance, THE OVERDUE LIFE OF AMY BYLER is next year’s feel-good read!
*Momspringa (n.): A period of time when moms are given time away from the demands of daily life, including their children, so they can recharge and reconnect with themselves as human women. Inspired by the Amish term Rumspringa.
They say that cats don’t like change. But Luna, an imaginative tabby, understands that sometimes it’s necessary. When her owner, Annika, moved back to her small New England hometown six months ago along with her sixteen-year-old twins, Luna knew it was for the best. Ever since Annika’s husband, Peter, died suddenly, the family has been floundering. Luna, too, is guilt-ridden, sure she could have done more to save her favorite person. Luna also knows something the others don’t know. Peter’s spirit is still with them, and Luna believes there is something he needs her help to do . . .
Annika has been struggling to move on. It doesn’t help that her son, Donovan, blames her for his father’s death. Peter always told Annika that they had the best love story going, yet the fact is that much of their story has been hidden away, even from their children. When Annika’s first love, Sam, arrives to plow them out during an intensifying storm, the truth begins to emerge at last. And Luna—watchful and unwavering in her affection—may be her family’s best hope of learning how to forgive and to heal . . .
Connect with Sandy on her website here.
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.
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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.
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.