Fiona Davis takes us back to the McCarthy era, NYC theater and the Chelsea Hotel in her brand new novel, The Chelsea Girls. Author Q & A included!

The Chelsea Girls

The McCarthy Era, NYC theater, and the Chelsea Hotel…Fiona Davis has treated us to another wonderful novel, The Chelsea Girls!

I love the historical setting of the Chelsea Hotel in NYC in the 1950s, with writers, actors and musicians in residence; what an interesting place to live during the McCarthy era when there was a threat of blacklisting.

Hazel is a playwright and upon her return from being on tour with the USO in Italy, and against her parents’ will, she moves out of her childhood home and into the Chelsea Hotel to work in theater.  Soon after, she is reunited with Maxine, her actress pal from the tour, when she moves to NY and into the same hotel.  Their friendship is strong and they end up working together on a play that is headed for Broadway just when the red scare casts a shadow over the theater industry.  The hunt for communists becomes prevalent and causes fear and upheaval with the girls and their co-workers. These complicated times presented difficult challenges with friendships that threatened loyalties, and I was rooting for Hazel and Maxine to beat the odds.  I found myself absorbed in each of the young women’s stories through the linear storytelling, and the deep dive into their friendship we learn through narration, conversation and diary entries.  The Chelsea Girls was compelling, interesting, educational and satisfying.

The history Fiona Davis shines a light on is enlightening and google-worthy in all of her novels and The Chelsea Girls is no exception.  Many notable people have lived in the Chelsea Hotel over time…including Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Bette Midler, and due to the many deaths that occurred there, The Chelsea Hotel is known for its’ famous ghosts that are present.

A wonderful story that includes history, NYC and friendship, I highly recommend The Chelsea Girls and all of Fiona’s other novels too (The Dollhouse – takes place at The Barbizon Hotel, The Address – takes place at the Dakota, and The Masterpiece – takes place at Grand Central Terminal)!

Book Nation by Jen and Fiona Davis

Q & A with Fiona Davis

Q:  I love the setting of The Chelsea Hotel for your newest novel…how did you come across it and decide to use it as a backdrop for your book?

A:  I knew I wanted to have the plot be about two women trying to mount a play on Broadway during the McCarthy era, and the hotel made the perfect location, as several of its residents were investigated by the FBI during that time, one was even imprisoned, and the place has been a political and artistic hotbed since it opened in 1884.

Q:  The acting and theater challenges Maxine and Hazel faced were authentic and believable.  How has your background impacted how you wrote about them?

A:  I think maybe my background offered specificity when it comes to the details of putting a show up on Broadway, and I have no doubt that having read a lot of plays helped me when it came to writing dialogue. When I acted in a theater company when I first came to New York, we did everything behind the scenes – from costume design to selling tickets – so it was a crash course in how a play gets mounted as well as the many obstacles involved in producing.

Q:  The age of McCarthy and the witch hunt for communists took a toll on the people in the entertainment business in the Chelsea Girls- can you tell me a little about what happened during that time period in real life?    

A:  One of the best books to read on the subject is Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time. She describes the initial reaction that the witch hunt as a joke. They figured since they were innocent of anything illegal, it would all disappear in time. Instead, the circus grew stranger and stranger and more threatening, and her account of testifying before Congress will send a shiver up your spine.

Q:  I love the how the chapters alternate between the two main characters.  Did you write them in the order they appear in the book?  Why did you choose to have only Maxine keep a diary?

A:  I wrote the book in order, going back and forth between Hazel’s perspective and Maxine’s. I liked the way that their perspectives offered up a different viewpoint as to what was going on, depending on their own opinions and backgrounds. I wanted to have only Maxine keep a diary so we could get deep into her head, and have a recorded account of the events.

Q:  Hazel and Maxine had struggles and I enjoyed both of them so much!  Even though there was deceit, their friendship was powerful and necessary in order to sustain composure during those times.  Who do you identify with most?

A:  I think I identify with Hazel most, as while I loved acting, it wasn’t suited to my more introspective nature. She feels the same way, and finds herself by writing plays just as I discovered so much joy in writing books.

Q:  Do you see hints of McCarthy era parallels in reverse today with accusations toward our president of having Russian connections?  Is it equally as damaging?

A:  It’s amazing how history repeats itself, but I think the way that people are bandying about the term “McCarthyism” today requires a hard look at what really happened, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it in the first place. Back then, politicians were trying to find an “other” to demonize, a way to find a common enemy and thereby consolidate their power. My hope is by taking a close look at the past, we can avoid going down the same road again.

Q:  After your book tour for The Chelsea Girls, What is up next for you?

A:  I’m hard at work on the next book, which is called The Lions of Fifth Avenue and set in the New York Public Library. It’s a big endeavor but I’m enjoying it immensely.

Q:  What is on your nightstand to read next?

A:  I have two books that are coming out next year to read: Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford (which is also about the blacklist, I like to think I started a trend, although I’m sure she’s been working on it for years), and The Girls in White Gloves by Kerri Maher. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

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Is There Still Sex in the City? Author Candace Bushnell says the answer is YES!

Is There Still Sex in the City by Candace Bushnell

My Review:

Decades after Carrie Bradshaw, a young and hopeful writer for a NYC newspaper, and her girlfriends took on the challenges of sex and dating in the big city, author Candace Bushnell re-examines life in her new book, Is There Still Sex in the City? with a new group of female friends as they navigate the highs and lows of middle age today, along with the challenges of mating.

Twenty years ago, Candace Bushnell reshaped the landscape of pop culture, first as a reporter for the New York Observer and then with her book Sex and the City.  It became a huge tv hit and spawned two movies, developing a loyal, female following. She published nine books in total, including The Carrie Diaries, a prequel to Sex and the City, and Lipstick Jungle, about successful business women friends and their lives with challenges, perks and sacrifices, both of which were popular tv shows.

Is There Still Sex in the City? is inspired by real happenings, based on Bushnell’s and her friends’ escapades with men, their female friendships and the ups and downs of midlife.  A keen social observer, her stories are delivered with distinct style and humor.

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Candace Bushnell on the eve of the release of her latest book, Is There Still Sex in the City? at the Westport Library in Westport CT in front of a crowd of more than 300 people and we learned how her new book came about and some of her findings when researching middle age dating trends!

Jennifer Blankfein of Book Nation by Jen

After her unexpected divorce, Candace left New York to take some time away and she retreated to CT where she had a house.  When Tina Brown asked her to come back to the city and write about middle aged dating she refused, but soon after she received an email from a young woman reporter begging her to help.  All of this young woman’s friends were on Tinder and they were unhappy – they needed Ms. Bushnell to jump in and find out what was going on.  And so she did.

Back and forth between NYC and the Hamptons, Candace and her middle aged friends were the source of information on how things go over 50.  Parents die, kids leave home, people get divorced, jobs are lost and opportunities for reinvention are created during the tumultuous time for women which Ms. Bushnell calls Middle Aged Madness.

She read a funny excerpt from the book about how she was peer pressured into going out on a date with a former Ivy League football star who said he was in his late 60s but turned out to be 75, closer to her dad’s age, and all he wanted was sex.

Author Candace Bushnell with Book Nation by Jen Blogger Jennifer Blankfein

We talked about technology and its impact on dating today, and Candace referenced her book when saying how there is a whole group of young men in their 20s and 30s who are interested in dating women 30 plus years their senior – this trend is called Cubbing and it can happen to the most unsuspecting of middle aged women!

In her book, she says, “Society colludes to tell men they’re a little bit better than they actually are while it tells women they’re a little bit worse.”  She agreed that the MeToo movement has allowed women to stand up for themselves more than before but believes men and women both feel the pressure to stay youthful.  There are special surgeries and luxurious creams available to keep women looking and feeling young, but ultimately everyone has to make choices on what they want to invest in based on their own personal comfort level.

We talked about how in the 1990s working for The New York Observer, she was asked to investigate Jeffrey Epstein due to some suspicions about a private plane and models, but was warned by someone close to him to stay away and stop asking questions.

Around the same time Charlie Rose asked her which was more important to her, writing or a relationship and back then her answer was writing.  Candace Bushnell’s priorities still stand, as she is passionate about her work and disciplined to accomplish her goals every day.  She enjoys spending time with her current boyfriend but they maintain their own residences and alternate time together and time apart.

Book Nation by Jen blogger Jennifer Blankfein with author Candace Bushnell

If you loved Sex and the City and the dating adventures of the iconic women friends in NYC, you will love Candace Bushnell’s new book that is a satirical tale based on her life after divorce and how she and her single, divorced and widowed friends tried to get back in the game in middle age.

Earlier this year the WSJ came out with an article about the new rules of middle age and Bushnell was quoted as saying “We are not going to do our 50s the way everyone is telling us we’re supposed to.”  She believes after our reproductive years we are reinventing ourselves, starting new ventures and taking chances and learning new things more than ever before.

Recently the NYT published an article about Bushnell’s Sunday routine which included snuggling with and walking her standard poodles, surfing the internet, writing, exercising and eating.  Maybe not what you expected from an ex-party girl, Candace admits to wearing the same pair of pants all the time and going out in NYC without makeup.

When asked which reality show is her favorite, she enthusiastically answered “Married at First Sight“.  She believes it is beneficial to have therapists meeting with the couples to give them tips on relationships and coaching throughout the early weeks of marriage.

Filled with heartbreaking and humorous anecdotes revealing adventures and challenges, Bushnell tells it like it is, sex and dating over 50 in all its glory and ugliness… she introduces us to labels she developed to categorize types of men, like the Hot Drop, Bicycle Boy and the Spouse-Child. And of course there are the well preserved Super Middles (middle aged people that are like they were before, only better)… and then everyone else. It’s not easy looking for love and Candace Bushnell keeps up chuckling through disappointments as she and her friends face the challenges of new hopeful romantic relationships and the settling for status quo companionships. Do the vibrant and experienced women over 50 today have strong relationships and good sex in their future?

When asked if there is still sex in the city, Candace says Yes, but probably a lot less.  And is the sex good?  She says it’s probably the same as it was before – if you enjoyed sex when you were younger you would feel the same over 50.

Hooray for us loyal fans… the fascinating conversation about women and dating over 50 will be played out on the big screen in the future – Paramount Television has picked up the rights to turn this one into a show!

It was a joy to learn more about Candace Bushnell, her life, career and new book, Is There Still Sex in the City?  Pick up a copy today for tips and insights about life, love and sex after 50, and enjoy some good laughs!

Goodreads Summary

Candace Bushnell

About the Author:

Candace Bushnell is the critically acclaimed, international best-selling author of Killing Monica, Sex and the City, Summer and the City, The Carrie Diaries, One Fifth Avenue, Lipstick Jungle, Trading Up, and Four Blondes. Sex and the City, published in 1996, was the basis for the HBO hit series and two subsequent blockbuster movies. Lipstick Jungle became a popular television series on NBC, as did The Carrie Diaries on the CW.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok is a must read…a wonderful immigrant story focused on family and secrets that is also an addictive and compelling mystery! Includes author Q & A…

Searching For Sylvie Lee

My Review:

A perfect combination of literary fiction and suspense, in Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok lets us inside the minds of Chinese immigrant sisters Sylvie, Amy and their Ma.  Smart, pretty and accomplished, Sylvie is the golden child in the family.  Having grown up with her grandmother in the Netherlands, she felt compelled to return there when Grandma became ill.  Younger sister, Amy, is shy and insecure.  When Amy hears that Sylvie has mysteriously disappeared, she has to pull it together to be strong, and travel overseas to find out what happened to her beloved big sister.

Ma’s relationships with her daughters are complicated; she immigrated to NYC when she and Pa were young and she was pregnant.  They were very poor and worked many jobs to stay afloat.  Once Sylvie was born they sent her to the Netherlands to be cared for by Ma’s mother, as they thought it would be a better life for her. The  feeling of rejection had a huge impact on Sylvie and her other relationships.  She stayed in Amsterdam for more than 8 years, and when Ma and Pa had another daughter, Sylvie returned to NY, yet she felt she was called home to be a babysitter for her younger sister, Amy.

Communication barriers and lack of understanding add to the tension of this story and is often the case with immigrant families.  The relationship with children can be strained and sacrificed when coming to a new country as the parents have a hard time learning the ways of the new home yet the kids haven’t lived any other way.

Ma’s communication skills are limited because she only speaks broken English, but her thoughts in Chinese are clear and strong.  Sylvie spent her formative years in Dutch culture, feeling loved by her Grandma and cousin and on unsettled ground with her aunt and uncle, and Amy was from NY, had hard working, supportive parents but struggled with a stutter and had a hard time expressing herself.

Searching For Sylvie Lee is a story of love…the beauty and the pitfalls, the joy and the heartbreak.  An unexpected disappearance becomes a full on mystery, and pain, confusion and misunderstandings are the results of buried family secrets – unintentional hurt is inflicted all around, but does the truth come out too late?  

 A Chinese immigrant experience in NY and Amsterdam, Searching For Sylvie Lee is full of suspense and wonderful writing.  This is one of my favorite books of the year!

The idea to write about a missing person was inspired by author Jean Kwok’s brother.  Learn more about the devastating disappearance of Jean Kwok’s brother HERE

Q & A with Jean Kwok

Q:  What inspires you to write and how do you decide the format and genre?
A:  I always write about issues that mean a great deal to me personally. Searching for Sylvie Lee was inspired by the real-life disappearance of my beloved and brilliant brother. I changed the main character to a woman, Sylvie, to escape the gravitational force of the true story, and Sylvie, her younger sister Amy and Ma indeed took on their own lives. However, since I did want to write about a disappearance and the ways in which we are hidden from each other by language and culture, it was natural to shape this book as a mystery surrounding a suspenseful immigrant family drama. 
Q:  The backdrop for Searching For Sylvie Lee is an immigration story about a family.  How similar is your personal story?
A:  Like Sylvie, I’m a first generation Chinese American immigrant and my family was also very poor when we first came to this country. Although I wasn’t sent away to be raised by my grandmother the way Sylvie was, I saw firsthand what it was like for every able-bodied person in my family to work day and night just to make ends meet. Even though I did end up going to Harvard and Columbia, I was never considered the golden child in my family – that role was reserved for my brother, the one who disappeared. I was too bad at being a Chinese girl: terrible housekeeper and cook, too opinionated and independent. So when he vanished, I had the same feeling that Amy did, of needing to pull myself together to try to figure out what had happened to my beloved sibling. 
Q:  The Grandmother took responsibility for Sylvie as a baby and in the end Sylvie felt it was important to be with her when she was ill.  Typical family structure with traditional upbringing of the children by the parents was not the route this family took.  How did you come up with this scenario?  Can you tell us about your grandparents?
A:  I actually never met any of my own grandparents because they were left behind in China when we emigrated. However, as the youngest of seven children, I often felt like my parents were in some ways my grandparents too, since they were the age of my friends’ grandparents. I also know many people who either needed to send their children back to their grandparents to be raised because they couldn’t afford to keep them or were sent back themselves as children. So the loving relationship between Sylvie and Grandma is something I understand deeply, even though I didn’t know my own grandparents. I watched my own parents grow older and more frail.
Q:  I enjoyed all of the details that added to the richness of your story: the bike riding, the music lessons, the trip to Venice, the apple tart…where do you get your ideas?
A:  Actually, all of the instances of flirtatious Dutch men on bicycles actually happened to me, which is not as fun as it sounds because my biking skills are even worse than Amy’s. When a huge Dutch guy swung himself onto the baggage rack of my little bicycle as I rode by, I lost control and we almost dove into a canal, which was terrifying because like Sylvie, I can’t swim! I like to use incidents from real life in my books and I also enjoy interviewing people and adding slices of their lives. 
Q:  I love that each of your main characters, Sylvie, Amy and Ma express their points of view in alternating chapters and yet the reader is the only one that sees the full picture.  How did you decide to write it this way and what was your process?  Did you have to make an outline or organize in any way before you started?
A:  One of the questions that Searching for Sylvie Lee asks is, “How well do we truly know the people we love most?” In many immigrant families, the children adopt the dominant language of the country, English, while the parents still struggle with it, resulting in parents and children who no longer speak the same language fluently. I combined those two ideas by having the novel be told by three different narrators – Sylvie, Amy and Ma – all thinking in their own languages: Dutch, English and Chinese. Of course, the book’s written in English but since the inner dialogue is in each woman’s own mother tongue, we are able to get to know each of them in a way that the others can’t. So Ma thinking in Chinese is a much deeper, more complicated person than Amy, her own daughter, will ever know because Amy can only hear the Ma who speaks broken English.
I did outline the entire novel before I started writing. The release of information and clues is essential to the pacing of the book, so I had to figure out where to place the Facebook messages, newspaper articles, etc. to keep the reader turning the pages. Many details changed over the course of the novel but I was constantly backing up to check that the overall structure of the book was working well. 
Q:  Many of your characters have secrets and throughout the story you provide us with clues right up until we learn the truth.  Did the clues appear naturally or did you add them in after you wrote the book?  
A:  I planned everything from the very beginning and I did know exactly how the book would end. I personally need to know the ending in advance because the progression of the entire novel is shaped by the ending. I always hope that my work will be both entertaining and enlightening, so I want the reader to enjoy the ride. I’m anticipating the reader experience throughout so that the ending is hopefully both surprising and yet earned. 
Q:  Sylvie is smart and pretty and looked upon as a being successful…Amy is insecure and lacks direction, but deep down, it seems these sisters are more alike than different.   Can you give us some insight and tell us which one you relate to most?
A:  I definitely relate to both of the sisters. I have the same perfectionist drive as Sylvie but am sadly not as talented, so I can identify with Amy who always felt like she was in Sylvie’s shadow as well. In my family, I was never considered smart or successful – that was my brother, and yet, my brother and I loved each other so much. He always took care of me and when we were very poor, he was the person who gave me a blank diary and said, “Whatever you write in this will belong to you.” That was the beginning of my life as a writer. So the love that binds the two sisters is very real to me as well. 
Q:  How long did it take to write this book and did you have to make any majors changes during the revision process?
A:  It took about three years to write this novel and it really seemed to flow seamlessly. I sketched out the story and started writing. There were minor revisions along the way but it almost seemed to write itself. I have a wonderful editor who helped me enhance the relationships, and she also let me know when the foreign languages needed to be pruned back a bit, that sort of thing, but basically, the book has remained unchanged from its initial conception. 
Q:  This book is a beautiful combination of compelling fiction with well developed characters, varied and descriptive background settings and an addictive mystery.  Do you recommend any other books that have a similar storytelling or other authors that have accomplished the same? 
A:  Thank you for your kind words. I think that Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a wonderful novel that is similar in that it’s a page-turner wrapped around an immigrant family. This novel about a murder trial involving a Korean immigrant family after their medical facility explodes is a suspenseful, deep read. 
Q:  Can we expect another page turner that takes us on a journey from you?
A:  I’m working on a new novel right now and it’s about a young Chinese American immigrant woman who comes to the US to start a new life, but that fresh start is threatened when she gets involved with her white English teacher and he dies in a suspicious accident involving her. So indeed, I hope this will be another page turner that deals with deeper issues of immigration, culture, race and language. 

Watch Jean Kwok’s interview on the Today Show HERE

CLICK HERE for other great book club choices.

Goodreads Summary

Jean Kwok

About the Author:

Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist. She is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats.

Learn more about Jean here:
www.jeankwok.com
https://www.facebook.com/JeanKwokAuthor

A gripping, unsettling, thriller…The Whisper Man by Alex North will have you looking over your shoulder!

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My Review:

The Silence of the Lambs meets The Shining in this gripping, unsettling thriller that is sure to creep you out!

If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.

Tom Kennedy and his young son, Jake move to Featherbank, a small, charming village for a fresh start, but their new location is not as warm and welcoming as they had hoped.  Years ago there had been multiple child abductions and murders in town, and now another boy has disappeared.  Amidst the fear and suspicions, Jake is talking to himself, Tom has a strange visitor at their new house, and unusual voices are being heard.  The boy and his father are struggling to connect with each other after a terrible loss in their family, and at the same time they are battling unseen demons and losing their grip on reality.

This is a fast paced, hair-raising, psychological thriller that also deals with loss, grief and father-son relationships.  If you love to get spooked, check out The Whisper Man, available August 20th.

Q & A with Author Alex North

Q: What was the initial idea that became The Whisper Man? 

A: I wanted to write about fathers and sons. Very specifically, I wanted to write about a widowed father struggling to connect with his grieving son. But I knew that I wanted it to be a crime novel with spooky elements, and I’ve long been a fan of the forums and threads you find online where people list creepy things little kids have come out with. Like saying “that’s where I used to live” when the family is driving past a graveyard, or talking about the man with the long neck in the closet and then the parents discover someone hung themselves in the house years earlier. 

When we moved into our new house, there was a day when my son, who was about four at the time, talked about playing with “the boy in the floor.” That stuck with me, and I eventually decided that Jake in the book would have imaginary friends and some of them would be quite frightening. The story developed from there. 

Q: Describe the writing process— how long did it take you, and what was your writing routine like as you worked on the book? 

A: The book probably took about a year to write, although I’d been thinking about it and planning it a little before then. My routine was – and is – pretty standard. In terms of time, I take my son to school, then head to the gym for an hour. Depending on the weather, I sit in a park and read for another hour or so, then head to a bar or a café and write until it’s time to pick my son up again. In the beginning, I was writing cautiously, a few hundred words a day, but it certainly accelerated as I went along. Towards the end, I was writing and rewriting tens of thousands of words a day and not sleeping all that much. But that suits me fine. I was always the kind of kid that did all his revisions the night before the exam. 

Q: The story offers a very honest portrait of how difficult it can sometimes be for a father to connect with his son. What was it like to write about such a sensitive subject, and how much did you draw from your experience as a father or from people you know? 

A: I don’t think you can help but draw from your own experience. Even if you’re using your imagination, you’re still going to be influenced by everything you’ve seen and read and done. The book’s entirely fictional, in that nothing in it really happened – or at least not the way it does in the story – but it’s inevitable that real life creeps in a little, because I wanted the book to feel honest. 

I’m not sure how sensitive that particular subject is. You have two characters who love each other and want to connect but aren’t sure how, and I think that to some degree that’s probably the norm rather than being unusual. Especially when it comes to children and parents. As a parent, you are suddenly handed this incredible responsibility. There’s a sense that your child is an extension of you, and that it’s your job to guide them based on your own knowledge and experience. But of course, as they grow older, they become much more of a person in their own right, and you have to hold yourself back more and more. They’re not you. In the book, Tom has to fight against his best intentions for Jake and, as he puts it, “just let him be him.” I think that’s pretty key, but also easier said than done sometimes. 

Q: Jake accidentally reads something his father is writing and is disturbed by it. Have you ever been in this situation in real life? Is it something you think about, as a novelist and as a father? 

A: No, I’m incredibly protective of my writing until it’s done. I write in public places,
but I always want my back to a wall, as I don’t want someone looking over my shoulder and reading part of some terrible first draft. It’s important for me to keep it to myself until it’s as good as possible. So, my son is never going to see anything I’ve been writing on a screen; I’m way too careful for that. 

He’s a voracious reader, though, so maybe he’ll read one of my books when he’s older. That’s a bridge I’ll have to cross when I come to it. He’s only eight right now, so it’s a few years until I need to worry about it! 

Q: Rights have now sold in over 23 territories and counting, and film rights have been optioned by the directors behind “Avengers: Infinity War.” What has it been like to see this reaction to The Whisper Man? 

A: It’s been amazing. As I was writing the book, I just wanted to finish it – to get it done – and I had no real expectations about rights or film adaptations. I think if you imagine that kind of thing while you’re writing, you’re setting yourself up for massive disappointment down the line. Better to have much lower expectations and end up being surprised! And I’ve been not just surprised, but slightly humbled. For various reasons, it’s a personal book for me, and I’m enormously pleased that people have connected with it the way they have. 

Q: Are you at work on another book? 

A: I’m writing something at the moment, but I’m superstitious about talking about work in progress. For one thing, a part of me feels that if you talk about a story too much, you rob yourself of the need to write it down; and for another, it will probably change completely by the time I’m done with it. At the moment, it’s another spooky psychological thriller, this time about a violent murder and an impossible disappearance from years earlier. But I’ll have to finish writing it to find out for sure. 

Q &A courtesy of DAVID ADAMS/Celadon Books

The Whisper Man will be available August 20, 2019.  If you enjoy psychological thrillers, check out some great ones by Clare Machintosh!

About the Author:

Alex North was born in Leeds, England, where he now lives with his wife and son. The Whisper Man was inspired by North’s own little boy, who mentioned one day that he was playing with “the boy in the floor.” Alex North is a British crime writer who has previously published under another name.

Q & A with author Mary Beth Keane about her gripping new novel, Ask Again, Yes.

Ask Again, Yes book cover

My Review:

I loved this moving story of young love, family trauma and the aftermath…mental illness, addiction, forgiveness and the power of love kept me engrossed until the very last page.

Two young policeman work together in Brooklyn in the 1970s.  To distance themselves from the job after the workday and to start families they both move to the suburbs with their wives and end up living next door.  Francis and Lena have three daughters, one named Kate, and Brian and Anne have a son, Peter.  Kate and Peter have a strong connection and become very close, yet the families don’t socialize, mostly because Anne’s behavior is a little odd.

A tragic event occurs…no spoilers here…and relationships become strained and crumble under the stress.  Can we find the way back to the people who are important to us?  A gripping new novel with deep characters and an accurate portrayal of the working class, Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is a must read!

Mary Beth Keene, Jennifer Gans Blankfein, Lauren Blank Margolin

Mary Beth Keane, Me, and fellow book blogger friend Lauren Blank Margolin (Good Book Fairy)

Q & A with author Mary Beth Keane

Can you tell me a little about your process of writing and organizing this novel.  Did you know the path each character would take individually or did it come together as you wrote?

I started the novel seeing only two of the characters. Francis, and Peter. I knew Peter was a child and Francis was new to the NYPD, but I didn’t know what they had to do with one another for a long time. I began by writing them separately, and then placing them alongside each other, if that makes sense. Eventually it became clear how these families would have an impact on one another. I never write my books in order, from beginning to end. For example, there’s a scene where Peter slides down a telephone pole. In the final draft, it’s a memory being recollected. But that was one of the first scenes I wrote when I began this book.

Two neighbors have a childhood friendship that ultimately turns to love, and even though they are kept apart for some time, they find each other again.   What inspired you to create this relationship the reader is hoping for?

I knew that they would be childhood friends, and I knew they would find each other again as adults. I also knew they had quite different approaches to life thanks to the environments in which they were raised. I don’t outline, but I did know that much. I did NOT know what form their reconnection would take: whether they’d just meet up once and move on or what. The point of the book, if there is a point, is about the randomness of life, and how our lives touch and change other lives even when we don’t mean them to.

Anne Stanhope’s erratic behavior was due to mental illness, and her husband Brian, his brother George and her son Peter battled alcohol addiction.  Their struggles were painful and actions seemed realistic…how did you prepare to write such complicated characters?

I pull partly from life and partly from my imagination. By middle age most people know someone who has struggled with addiction, whether they know it or not. All I need is a spark from real life and then I can run with it and imagine all the possible outcomes. The thrill of fiction writing is following one possible outcome to its conclusion.

Peter is estranged from his mother – how did you research this idea of being out of touch with a parent?

My husband, who I met when we were in high school, was estranged from his parents for many years. His mother died during that estrangement. Explaining that break to our children, who never met their grandmother, was part of the reason I was driven to write this particular book. Is a parent always a parent? Does being someone’s mother or father or child always have particular meaning, or does that meaning get lost when the relationship is severed?

Guns and unnecessary shootings are in the news all the time; do you think Brian, a police officer, was careless or did he consciously make the decision to be lax?

No, he was just being careless. These were the years before Columbine, so even when that gun showed up where it shouldn’t have, people didn’t yet think immediately of a mass shooter like they would today. I talked to a lot of police officers while writing this book and that was something that came up more than once, stories of off-duty police officers losing track of their off-duty weapons, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

Did you know how the book was going to end when you started writing it?

Ha! No. Not even remotely.

Did you change anything significant during  the revision process?

Oh yes! So much that I couldn’t possibly answer fully here. I started the book from Kate’s point of view, written in the first person. I scrapped that after about one hundred pages. I changed the structure many, many times. I spent a very long time starting with Peter and Kate as adults, and then looping back to their childhoods, but that felt impossible to pull off without bogging down the narrative with flashback. It took a long time to figure out how to best tell this particular story.

Can you share any information about Ask Again, Yes for TV and Film?

Just that I’m thrilled, and that it’s happening. Right now it seems most likely to be a limited mini-series, and I’m delighted by that. I love that a limited mini-series will provide enough room and time to really tell this story in detail.

What have you read lately that you recommend?

I just finished All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan and I’m completely gutted. It was devastating and brilliant.

Goodreads Summary

Mary Beth Keane

About the Author:

Mary Beth Keane’s first novel, The Walking People (2009) was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her second novel, Fever (2013) was named a best book of 2013 by NPR Books, Library Journal, and The San Francisco Chronicle. In 2011 she was named to the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35.” She was a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction and her new novel, Ask Again, Yes, was published in June of 2019.

Exploring Complicated Relationships and the Impact of Performance Art in The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

My Review:

So much to love in this fictional novel centered around interesting characters and the real Marina Abramovic and her Artist is Present Performance Art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 in NYC.  Just as Abramovic explores the human longing for connection in her art, Heather Rose’s characters grow and change as a result of their observation and contemplation at the performance artist’s exhibit.

The Museum of Modern Love explores complicated relationships and the impact of performance art.  Arky is a composer and at this time he is a lost man.  His wife, Lydia is ill and she has requested he not see her.  He is struggling with his music and is drawn to an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art featuring Marina Abramovic, a performance artist.  He attends everyday, watching her sit and face other visitors as they look deep inside themselves.  Arky meets Jane, an art teacher from Georgia who is mourning the loss of her husband and has abandoned her plans to visit art galleries in NYC to attend this intriguing MOMA exhibit.  Captivated by Abramovic and the unique and powerful artistic expression, the two of them work through their thoughts on the importance and impact of art and contemplate their own personal loss and relationships.  This wonderful book is worthy of research and discussion – so much to think about when it comes to love and commitment, and a lot to learn about the courageous and one of a kind artist, Marina Abramovic… all available online, including a very funny spoof video with Fred Armisen and Cate Blanchett, Waiting For the Artist.

Additional Thoughts:

My book group had the wonderful opportunity to FaceTime with Australian author of The Museum of Modern Love, Heather Rose – from Tasmania to Westport, CT.  With a fourteen hour difference, we decided to do a practice run and lucky we did.  At 5AM I awakened by a FaceTime call, but the rehearsal was meant for 7pm my time, not her time! Heather and I tried again her next day, later the same day for me…and ultimately we got it right for the book group meeting!

Heather told us she had been working on writing a book for many years.  At the same time, and totally unrelated, she had come across something about performance artist Marina Abramovic and had been researching her, even though there was hardly any information available.  Abramovic had put her life on the line for her art and self expression – something that intrigued Heather.  Then, while on vacation, Heather was sitting at a restaurant alone at the hotel with an empty seat facing her.  She had this idea that different people would come and sit across from her and it sparked an idea for her book – people who had passed would come to visit the character… so she went up to her room and wrote all night.

Shortly after, she heard that Marina Abramovic was going to be at The Museum of Modern Art in NYC in an exhibit called The Artist Is Present, where she would be sitting with an empty chair facing her and inviting people to sit across from her.  Heather Rose went to NY and spent several weeks there.  She sat in the chair across from Marina 4 times, talked with people waiting in line, and each experience was profound and different.  With approval from Abramovic and her team, Heather rewrote her book with Marina Abramovic as the center piece of her fiction novel.

Heather Rose seemed to have some special connection with Marina Abramovic and heightened intuition and foresight which brought her to writing this novel.  Her personal life greatly influenced the characters and their journeys as well – she has a chronic illness as mirrored in the character of Arky’s wife, and she and her husband divorced during the writing of this story.  Our group was excited to hear she writes childrens books with a friend under the pen name, Angelica Banks, the Tuesday McGillyCuddy series, and knowing she enjoys spending time in NYC, we all hope to see her in person someday!

I loved this book and highly recommend it!  If you enjoy art you may want to check out The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis and On Color by David Scott Kastan.

Jennifer Blankfein's book group

Jennifer Blankfein facetiming with Heather Rose

Goodreads Summary

Author Heather Rose

About the Author:

Heather Rose is the author of five novels with a further two due for publication in 2016. Heather writes for both adults and children. Her adult novels include The River Wife & The Butterfly Man.

Heather writes the acclaimed Tuesday McGillycuddy series for children under the pen name Angelica Banks with award-winning author Danielle Wood.

Heather’s first novel White Heart was published in 1999. It was followed by The Butterfly Man in 2005 – a story based on the disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974. It was longlisted for the IMPAC Awards in Ireland, shortlisted for the Nita B Kibble Award and won the 2006 Davitt Award for the Crime Fiction Novel of the Year written by an Australian woman.

In 2007 Heather received the Eleanor Dark Fellowship and an Arts Tasmania Wilderness Residency for her novel The River Wife. The River Wife was published in 2009.

In 2010 Heather began collaborating with Danielle Wood and the Tuesday McGillycuddy series for primary age readers was born.

The series begins with Finding Serendipity published in Australia, Germany and the USA in 2013/14. The sequel A Week Without Tuesday has been published internationally in 2014/ 2015 and the third book in the series – Blueberry Pancakes Forever – will be published in 2016/17.

In 2016 Heather’s next novel – The Museum of Modern Love – will be published by Allen & Unwin. It is based on the life and work of the artist Marina Abramovic.

Heather’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies including: Dirty Words – A Literary Dictionary of Sex Terms – edited by Ellen Sussman (Bloomsbury, USA), Some Girls Do – edited by Jacinta Tynan (Allen & Unwin) and Mosaic – edited by Ros Bradley (ABC Books). Her stories and reviews been published in various editions of Island magazine.

There is a Murderer Lurking Amongst Family and Friends in The Last Time I Saw You by Liv Constantine!

The Last Time I Saw You by Liv Constantine

My Review:

Can you forgive and repair old friendships and have them be as strong as they used to be?  In this Agatha Christie-like murder mystery where everyone is a suspect, Kate wants to know who killed her mother, Lily, and who is sending her threatening notes.  Her old best friend Blaire returns to her life after being estranged, ready to help, but does she have her own agenda?  And is Kate’s husband, Simon having an affair?  Is her dad keeping a secret?  Is the nanny being honest?  Set in the world of old money and generational wealth of Baltimore,  Kate has suffered more than one tragic loss and her family and friends support her, yet one of them could be a murderer.  Filled with lots of twists and turns, this whodunnit keeps you on your toes!  The Last Time I Saw You‘s author, Liv Constantine is the master of deception and lies, with this fast paced psychological suspense, perfect for a day on the beach!

I was fortunate enough to attend a book talk with the authors and learned about them and their writing process.

Lynne Constantine and Jennifer Blankfein

Liv Constantine is the pen name for Lynne and Valerie Constantine, the dynamic duo sisters who write together over FaceTime; one lives in Maryland, the other in Connecticut.  They figured out the secret to success with their huge best seller, The Last Mrs. Parrish, and are back with a new psychological thriller that will keep you flipping through the pages, called The Last Time I Saw You.  Lynne and Val started working together 20 years ago in person and enjoy having each other as writing partners. They split the writing pretty evenly but both have their own strengths, as Val is best at setting and scene and Lynne is the pro on writing dialog.  They come up with the story line and characters together and luckily, they rarely disagree.

The theme of The Last Time I Saw You is friendship, and it is dedicated to the Tuesday ladies, the special group friends who spent time with their mom and aunt, always elegantly dressed with nice shoes, fancy hair and makeup.

After a big splash in the book world with Mrs. Parrish, there was considerable pressure to follow suit.  This sophomore book took them one and a half years to write, and according to the authors, it was like pulling teeth all the way!  Revisions were plentiful as their publisher told them they needed one more twist in the plot, and then the decision to change who the murderer was in the third draft led to some rewriting.  Lucky for us, the book is complete and out in the world!  FYI, their third book, about a wife stalker, only took four months to write and is in edits now!

When asked about the attention received for The Last Mrs. Parrish, Lynne and Val told a few stories.

Lynne and Valerie Constantine author talk

(Lynne, sorry about this photo with your eyes closed licking your lips…you must be thinking about Patrick Dempsey!)

When The Last Mrs. Parrish was chosen for the People Magazine pick, the sisters were ecstatic and ventured out to CVS to buy up a bunch of copies.  Unfortunately  Harvey Weinstein was on the cover and they got a lot of strange looks from observers!

When they were notified that Reese Witherspoon chose Mrs. Parrish for her book club, over the phone, they screamed with delight but were then told they had to keep it quiet for close to three weeks.   They lied to one of their husbands who was in the room at the time, making up some story about how someone was going to write an article about them.  He thought they were a bit dramatic but they stuck to their story.  Ultimately Lynne and Val were thrilled when Witherspoon announced her pick of The Last Mrs. Parrish and they had the pleasure of connecting with Reese on Instagram.

The most recent, exciting news is that Amazon is developing a series based on Mrs. Parrish, but mums the word on details as of now!

Goodreads Summary

Val and Lynne Constantine

About the Authors:

Liv Constantine is the pen name of USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and international bestselling authors and sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine, co-authors of the Reese Witherspoon book club pick, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH. Separated by three states, they spend hours plotting via FaceTime and burning up each other’s emails. They attribute their ability to concoct dark story lines to the hours they spent listening to tales handed down by their Greek grandmother. Their next book, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, was released on May 7, 2019.

Visit them at www.livconstantine.com

Glamorous, Hot and Steamy… Cape May by Chip Cheek Is Where Young Newlyweds Are Overcome By Desire. This is Not Your Mother’s Honeymoon!

Cape May book cover

My review:

Desire and early marriage are a perfect match but on their honeymoon in Cape May, the brand new and unfamiliar feeling of lust sends naive newlyweds Effie and Henry down a dangerous path. Can they retrace their steps and go back to pure and innocent times, or will their unforgivable actions alter the course of their relationship forever?

Chip Cheek’s debut, Cape May, is set in 1957 and the innocent, young couple is right out of high school. After a disappointing few days on their honeymoon in a sleepier than what they expected, New Jersey seaside village, where their fun and togetherness feels awkward, forced and unnatural, they decide to return home to Georgia early. But a chance meeting with beautiful, socialite neighbors who are having a party change their minds and boy, do things heat up. Socializing, drinking, dancing, swimming and sailing with the people down the street add energy and excitement and contribute to the electricity in the air. Having great fun in the vacation mode, and experiencing thrills and lowered inhibitions lead Effie and Henry, along with the neighbors, to sexual experimentation, manipulation and betrayals.

This book is steamy and fast paced – a good, hot beach read. It was a little too “50 Shades of Grey” for me personally, but I still enjoyed and appreciated the story of the loss of innocence in a new marriage, the inner conflicts regarding morality and the impact continually flowing cocktails, clandestine meetings in the night and sexual freedom can have. This is not your mother’s honeymoon!

Q & A with Chip Cheek from publisher’s website

Goodreads Summary

Chip Cheek author photo

About the Author:

CHIP CHEEK’s stories have appeared in the Southern Review, Harvard Review and Washington Square, among others. He’s been awarded scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop, and the Vermont Studio Center. CAPE MAY is his debut novel.

Forging New Relationships and Redefining Home is a Difficult Road that Leads to Positive Change in This is Home by Lisa Duffy

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This is Home is a emotional story of Libby, a motherless teenage girl trying to create and define her home along with Quinn, a military wife who feels abandoned and is searching for belonging. The characters are searching for connection and the family they really want is not always an option.

Teenage Libby lives with her father, Brent, who has returned from the military to raise her.  Her mother left when she was very young, came back in time to fight and lose her battle with cancer, leaving the father and daughter to face the world without her.  Brent’s sisters live in the apartment upstairs and are on hand to take care or Libby when he is at work.

Quinn’s husband, John returned from the military with PTSD and then abruptly goes missing, so, now all alone, she moves in to the first floor apartment of Brent’s house to figure out her life.  Brent was John’s platoon leader in Iraq and he feels responsible for helping Quinn out.  Initially, Libby is not happy with the intrusion of a stranger in her house and in her life, but she and Quinn, both struggling with abandonment and redefining home, develop a friendship.

Lisa Duffy’s characters are imperfect and believable – they all are in search of something and they also offer comfort, camaraderie and support to each other, making this a book I didn’t want to end.  The author touches on PTSD, pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and coming of age – real life problems and challenges that are relatable.  I enjoyed all the relationships that were forged, the growth each character experienced, and I was rooting for them all! I highly recommend This is Home as well as Lisa Duffy’s first book, The Salt House.

Q & A with Lisa Duffy

Do you have experience with ptsd and the military and how much research did you do for this book?

One of the reasons I wanted to write about this subject was my lack of personal experience with the military. When my oldest daughter graduated high school, a number of her classmates joined the military, some in potential combat positions, and it raised so many questions for me. What makes someone choose this as a future? How do the loved ones staying behind feel about it? What sort of sacrifices and challenge arise when someone deploys on a tour and then returns to civilian life? As a writer, this is the material I always want to explore. The things that pique my curiosity. My research started with reading a lot of memoir and fiction. Then watching a lot of documentaries on the subject. I have several friends in the military and they put me in touch with people who were willing to talk about their experience and answer any questions that came up as I wrote the book. 

Dogs can certainly bring out the best in people. Why did you decide to include Rooster as a character? 

A lot of things that come to life in a book aren’t really decisions. When I started writing the character of Libby, she had a dog. It wasn’t really a conscious decision that I made, more of a feeling that this family would be a family who owned a dog. So…Rooster Cogburn appeared. And he was immediately this big, lazy beast. Maybe because we’ve always had big, lazy labs and they’ve always been such a huge part of our family. Rooster was a lot of fun to write. I miss spending my days with him. 

None of the characters had a stable upbringing or current adult family life that felt solid yet they were all in pursuit of normalcy. What is the significance of the title This is Home? 

The title comes from a moment in the end of the first chapter when Libby is wishing they could move out of the noisy, crowded triple-decker and back to their old home—the one she’s always known. But she doesn’t bother talking about it with her father. She doesn’t ask him to move back home because she knows that his answer will be that this is home, even though it doesn’t feel like it to her. It’s the beginning of her journey to redefine home, and what it means to her. 

What have you read lately that you recommend?

I loved Sandi Ward’s Something Worth Saving, Devin Murphy’s Tiny Americans and Elise Hooper’s Learning To See. All second books that hit shelves this year from authors I met in an online debut group for The Salt House. One of the great things about this author gig is finding new favorite writers. I’m waiting eagerly for the third novels from all of these folks. 

What is on your nightstand to be read next?

I’ve been looking forward to diving into Michelle Obama’s memoir. I also have a second draft of a friend’s novel-to-be waiting on my Kindle. And a stack of novels on my bedside table that is growing and growing. I’m not doing a lot of reading right now because I’m close to finishing the first draft of my third novel, and I find that at night, I just want to sit and clear my head. But when I’m done with the draft, I’ll be ready to dig in to other stories. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my third novel, releasing from Atria next summer, about class, identity and betrayal colliding when a young girl is orphaned in a close-knit island community off the coast of New England. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lisa Duffy is the author of This is Home and The Salt House, named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release, as well as one of Bustle’s Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017, a She Reads Book Club selection and Refinery 29’s Best Beach Reads of 2017.
Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children.