Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke keep us guessing with their new psychological thriller, The Two Lila Bennetts…author Q & A included.

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My Review:

Lila Bennett’s life is not run of the mill.  She is a young, upwardly mobile criminal defense lawyer, has had the challenging experience of defending the guilty on more than one occasion, and has stepped on some toes along the way to achieve her success.  Questions regarding her moral and ethical decisions plague her psyche when it comes to her job and her past personal life choices, and to add to her confusion, conflicting emotions when it comes to her best friend’s husband has lead her to make some recent choices that could jeopardize her own marriage.

Lila’s life could go in two different directions…and in The Two Lila Bennetts, and in Sliding Doors fashion, they do!  In one case, Lila leaves her office at night, gets captured and held hostage by a masked assailant in an undisclosed location, while being forced to repent for her bad choices.  In another case she is being followed and emotionally tortured with hints and clues about her checkered past as they slowly become public.

Authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke take us on an emotional and thrilling ride, following through with Lila’s parallel lives; we are faced with unexpected twists and turns every step of the way as the anticipation builds.  Lila must re-evaluate her choices and figure out who is out to get her before it is too late…and even if she does, can she return to her life as it once was?

For an edge of your seat escape you don’t want to put down, grab a copy of The Two Lila Bennetts!

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Q & A with Liz and Lisa

Q:  You have said that writing Girls’ Night Out Together practically ended your partnership and The Two Lila Bennetts brought you back together.  Can you explain?

The edit of GNO was very challenging and we found ourselves at an impasse. For so many years we had been on cruise control, not really discussing the particulars of how we do things. And that worked until we were pushed to the limit with that edit. (We rewrote a large portion of the book FOUR times!)

But ultimately, hitting rock bottom was the best thing that could have happened. It gave us an opportunity to start fresh and understand each other and our work processes better. Lila was a joy to write and edit, and it felt like a fresh start.

Q:  I am curious about your process…how did you split up the writing?  Did one of you write Lila captured and the other write Lila free?

A:  One of the lessons we learned from Girls’ Night Out was that we both need to be fully invested in every narrative and/or timeline. So because of that, we would alternate which one of us would begin a free or captured chapter. Then we would pass the chapter back and forth, editing until we were both happy.

Q:  I love how there were hints of a double life when Lila free had unexplained soreness and dejavu.  Did you add those references in the edit stage or right from the beginning?

A:  They were there from the beginning! We thought it was important for Lila to subconsciously be aware of both lives.

Q:  Who came up with the “Sliding Door” concept?  (I never saw the movie but it is now on my list!)

A:  Liz’s fourteen-year-old daughter! We were creatively depleted after the GNO edit and she tossed out taking the Sliding Doors concept (we’d forced her to watch the movie!), and creating a suspense novel. That’s why we dedicated the book to her.

Q:  Without giving anything away, did you stick with a plan for each of your characters or did things change during the writing process?  

A:  We changed the kidnapper in edits. Both our agent and editor thought it was too obvious, and they were right!

Q:  Being a lawyer that defends guilty people is defiantly a challenge and can wear on you morally.  How did you come up with the idea for your title character?

A:  We wanted Lila to have a career that had a lot of moral gray area to give her room to make questionable choices. She’s at a point in her life where she’s questioning many things, including her choice of career.

Q:  Even though Lila wronged people in her life, she was still likable and I rooted for her until the end.  How do you create a balance of good and evil but keep your heroine intact?

A:  It’s really tough! The most important thing is to create interesting protagonists and to show the reader why they are the way they are. With Lila, she had made many bad choices, but that didn’t mean she was a terrible person, and it also gave room for growth in her arc.

Q:  If this book were to become a movie, who would you want to play Lila, Ethan, Sam and Carrie? 

A:  For Lila–Krysten Ritter Carrie-Kate Hudson Ethan-Mark Ruffalo and Jay Hernandez for Sam

Q:  What books do you have on your nightstand and what do you recommend?

A:  Liz is reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean and Lisa just finished Ask Again, Yes. We have so many books on our TBR!  Some include: This is Not How It Ends by Rochelle Weinstein, Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein and Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeline Henry

Q:  Can you tell me a little about your next book?

A:  We’re switching things up a bit next summer with a dark love story! It’s called How To Save a Life, and it’s about a man named Dom that must figure out how to save the love of his life when she re-enters his life after a ten-year absence. Think Russian Doll meets One Day in December.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Authors

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have co-authored six books:

THE TWO LILA BENNETTS, about a woman whose life is split into two. Literally. (Out July 23rd)

GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT, about three estranged friends who go to Mexico and one of them disappears. (Lake Union, July 24th, 2018)

THE GOOD WIDOW, about a wife who learns that nothing is as it seems: not her marriage, her husband…or his death is out now. (Lake Union.)

THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY, about three best friends who get the chance to re-live the year that dramatically changed the course of their lives, is out now. (Atria Books.)

THE STATUS OF ALL THINGS, about a woman who discovers she can literally rewrite her fate on Facebook, is out now. (Atria Books.)

YOUR PERFECT LIFE, about two childhood best friends who wake up the morning after their 20th high school reunion to discover they’ve switched bodies is out now. (Atria Books.) (less)

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Song of a Captive Bird by Jazmin Darznik

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My Review:

The beautiful cover of this powerful debut caught my eye and after perusing the summary on the book jacket I was compelled to read and recommend this to one of my book groups.  We wanted to focus on strong women and Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik fits the bill!

This story, based on the life of Forugh Farrokhzad, focuses on a young Iranian girl who as a child pushed the envelope when it came to respectable, traditional, female behavior.  She had an interest in poetry, writing at eleven years old to get the attention of her strict father.   She was lucky enough to find a friend she connected with who enjoyed the written word as well and she and this young boy secretly met and he exposed her to different writers, but the Iranian culture forbid them to socialize. Her parents locked her in small spaces as a punishment and due to her questionable behavior, they forced her to undergo a virginity test.   At sixteen years old her father orchestrated an arranged marriage and the relationship suffered due to unsurmountable challenges.  Forugh became a teenage mother, began a clandestine romantic relationship with a powerful man in the publishing business, ran away from her stifling marriage and toward freedom and self fulfillment.

Forugh’s passion was to write, and when her provocative, expressive poetry was published, scandalous and smart written words by a woman… it caused a huge uproar.  Her marriage had been damaged beyond repair, her parental rights were impacted, her love affair was not all she had hoped it would be, but her quest for independence and creative freedom remained her priority as she changed the world of poetry in Iran and became an icon for feminism.

The title, Song of a Captive Bird, refers to Forugh; her poetry is her song and she endures feelings of being trapped by society and the rules preventing women to express themselves, as well as her marriage, relationship with her parents and her lovers, during the 1970s political resistance leading up to the revolution.  But in some ways all the characters are like captive birds, trying to conform to societal rules in a suppressed society and being challenged by each other, yet also finding comfort in the confines of what is acceptable.  Forugh gave up her marriage and family to find success as a poet, because in Iran she could not have it all.

I loved this book along with all the others in my book group.  Forugh was a strong, feisty woman living in the 1970s in Iran who was determined to share her creativity  with the world, despite the backlash and outrage her poetry stirred up.  Although throughout her short life she she didn’t conform to rules for females, cooking and motherhood were not her strong suits, she endured some horrible psychological and physical tortures, suffered unbearable heartbreaks, and many aspects of her life seemed like colossal failures, Forugh persevered and set the bar high when it came to freedom of expression, independence and rights for women.

This book is historical fiction based on the incredible poetry and varied life experiences of controversial poet Forugh Farrokhzad whose life tragically ended at age 32.  Author Jasmin Darznik draws you in from the very beginning and consistently shocks and amazes you with details of this extraordinary woman’s life, giving you incentive to do some googling!  Fantastic debut novel!

 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jasmin Darznik is the author of the debut novel Song of a Captive Bird, a fictional account of Iran’s trailblazing woman poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, as well as the New York Times bestseller The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. Her books have been published or are forthcoming in sixteen countries.

Jasmin received her MFA from Bennington College and PhD in English from Princeton. She is a professor of English and creative writing at California College of the Arts and is now at work on a novel set in 1920s San Francisco.

A Marriage in Dog Years by Nancy Balbirer

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My Review: 

AVAILABLE IN JUNE! PRE-ORDER NOW! Author Nancy Balbirer takes us with her on the rocky journey of life as we see her joy filled marriage filled with hopes and dreams blossom then fizzle, at the same time her beloved, terminally ill beagle, Ira struggles to defy the odds and live another day.  From LA to NYC, single to married with a child, from puppy to old dog, and dreams of second chances, so much of life’s ups and downs happen and Nancy keeps you laughing through your tears.

A Marriage in Dog Years is a touching true story is told with honesty and humor, stirring up so many different feelings including love, anger, forgiveness and hope, well written in the author’s unique voice. Balbirer’s story is reminiscent to Sarah Jessica Parker’s hit show, Divorce on HBO – the good, the bad and the ugly truth about the slow death of a marriage, a complex relationship crumbling with regrets and infused with hope for peace and a bright future, with the added bonus of actual puppy love – unconditional and unwavering mutual support and devotion in man’s/woman’s best friend. If you love love, and if you love your pet, this emotional ride is for you!

Amazon Prime members can download A Marriage in Dog Years for FREE on May 1st and Book Nation by Jen will be hosting a GIVEAWAY for a copy hot off the press COMING SOON!

As Seen on Goodreads:

When Nancy Balbirer learns her beloved eleven-year-old beagle has kidney failure, she’s devastated. She and her husband had gotten Ira as a puppy—a wedding gift to each other, and their first foray into “parenthood.” Now, her dog is terminal, her marriage is on life support, and Nancy is desperate to save them both (whether they want it or not). In a single year, she loses her two best friends, but Nancy’s life is about to take yet another unexpected turn.

With humor and heart, Nancy Balbirer shares her story of relationships, loss, and canine friendship in this illuminating memoir about the lengths people will go to keep love alive…and the power of finally letting go.

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About the Author:

Nancy Balbirer is a writer and performer of stage and screen. She is the author of “Take Your Shirt Off and Cry.” She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

The Good Widow by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

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My Review:

Nothing wrong with a quick departure from reality as you become wholeheartedly absorbed in the suspense of The Good Widow.  Jacks answers her front door to find two police officers telling her the shocking news that her husband is dead.    She knew he was on a business trip in Kansas…or was he?  The plot thickens when they tell her he was in an accident in Maui, Hawaii.  With another woman.  And so it begins…the unravelling of the truth behind their rocky marriage, the mother in law, fertility issues and unmet expectations.  Then there’s a visit from Nick, the fiancé of the woman Jacks’ husband had been traveling with. Nick, equally distraught due to the loss of his wife to be, wants to take a trip to Maui with Jacks to retrace the couple’s steps and learn the truth.  And so they go.  They discover unexpected details about their dead partners’ secret vacation, and as the two grieving travelers spend time together things between them get complicated.   Will they be able to gain closure, forgive their loved one and move on with their lives?  What really happened in Hawaii? Are they truly who they say they are?

Fenton and Steinke do a great job building suspense, with more questions developing as each new detail rises to the surface.  The flawed, yet likable characters kept me engaged and I thought I had it all figured out a few times before I finally saw the light; an enjoyable quick read while basking in the summer sun!

As seen on Goodreads:

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

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About the authors:

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for 25 years and survived high school and college together. Liz lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, daughter and two bonus children.

 

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

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My Review:

Suburban young couple, Lucy and Owen are looking to feel energized and happy in their relationship, to bring back the butterflies, so their exciting but not so well thought out solution was The Arrangement.  An open marriage for six months.  Break all the rules. Do what you want. With whomever you want. No discussing anything with each other.  They wrote out a handful of rules and agreed to follow them.  This could be just what they need, right?

The freedom is refreshing.  No trapped feeling.  A reason to get dolled up.  A feeling of less responsibility.  So Owen gets caught up with Izzy, a crazy woman who’s husband cheated on her.  She regularly seduces him and then asks him to do annoying chores around her house and although the sex is good, he starts to wish he never agreed to get involved with her or the Arrangement.  On the other hand, Lucy finds Ben, a nice guy who she schedules a weekly rendezvous with and starts to develop feelings for.  Thinking of Ben when she is not with him is nice, positive, and happy…the feeling of falling for someone. Then when she can’t make it to see him one day she has this burning desire to talk on the phone and realizes this may not just be a sexual fling.  With a child in the mix and the lies told to cover up what was agreed to be kept secret, Lucy and Owen’s relationship complications multiply, and here you have the experiment called The Arrangement!

Sarah Dunn gives us an extremely humorous and well written tale of a typical young couple in the suburbs trying to reignite the lost passion with an unconventional Arrangement… a little sexy, a little daring, a little disastrous and a hilarious and accurate depiction of marriage, family and community.   So enjoyable and quick – you should not miss it!

As seen in Goodreaads:

Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. They’ve got a two hundred year-old house, an autistic son obsessed with the Titanic, and 17 chickens, at last count. It’s the kind of paradise where stay-at-home moms team up to cook the school’s “hot lunch,” dads grill grass-fed burgers, and, as Lucy observes, “chopping kale has become a certain kind of American housewife’s version of chopping wood.”

When friends at a wine-soaked dinner party reveal they’ve made their marriage open, sensible Lucy balks. There’s a part of her, though-the part that worries she’s become too comfortable being invisible-that’s intrigued. Why not try a short marital experiment? Six months, clear ground rules, zero questions asked. When an affair with a man in the city begins to seem more enticing than the happily-ever-after she’s known for the past nine years, Lucy must decide what truly makes her happy-“real life,” or the “experiment?”

 

Sarah Dunn (born 1970) is an American author and television writer. She is known for her novels ‘The Big Love’ and ‘Secrets to Happiness’, and the ABC sitcom American Housewife, starring Katy Mixon.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Dunn spent several years working service jobs in Philadelphia, PA, the experience of which informed her first book, ‘The Official Slacker Handbook’. Shortly afterward, she moved to Los Angeles, CA, where she wrote for television series including Murphy Brown, Veronica’s Closet, Spin City, and Bunheads. With Spin City co-creator Bill Lawrence, Dunn penned Michael J. Fox‘s final episode of the series.

Dunn is also a novelist whose works include The Big Love (2005), Secrets to Happiness  (2009), and The Arrangement (2017). Her books have been translated into 19 different languages.

Dunn is a member of the all-female television writer group “The Ladies Room”, which also includes Vanessa McCarthy, Stephanie Birkitt, and Julie Bean. The group was founded in July 2016.  Dunn is married to former New York Observer executive editor Peter Stevenson. They married in 2007.

No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

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No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

My Review:

In a small town in North Carolina an African American family is reaching for the American Dream. Life is hard and full of disappointments as it seems like a black cloud is over them. Ava is desperate for a baby yet she battles infertility and secretly reaches out to an online community for support and advise. Her husband Henry is upset about the decline in the furniture industry where he works, is cheating on Ava and feels disappointed in himself. Ava’s mother Sylvia’s life is stunted; she has never gotten over losing her son Devon and is married to Don, a man she doesn’t trust. JJ Ferguson, Ava’s old boyfriend is back in town, wealthy and living large on top of the hill. He has built a house overlooking the town and is hoping to get back together with Ava as he searches for the feeling of being home.

“We all get disappointed. ….We want what’s missing. Everybody wants what’s missing. “ Wealth, trust, fidelity, love…they all are searching for something to make them feel whole yet no one is spared of life’s challenges.

As Ava, JJ, Henry and Sylvia struggle to find happiness the occasional glimmers of light are not enough to make all their dreams come true.
“They could pretend they had the power to fix their lives. The trick was making themselves believe it. That’s what joy is, isn’t it? Belief for a little while that you have the power to mend everything?”

Stephanie Powell Watts has written an impressive debut as she skillfully weaves thoughts from the characters’ pasts with current goings ons – a true glimpse into how they physically experience the now while recalling old memories. She gives us a snapshot of reality where little is perfect and few are satisfied. It is reminiscent of the fact that life can be challenging and making the most out of it gives us the biggest reward.

“If you can’t get what you want, want something else. “

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to more from Stephanie Powell Watts.

Purchase a copy of No One Is Coming To Save Us on AMAZON HERE.

Click hear to listen to Stephanie Powell Watts’ NPR Interview HERE

 

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Stephanie Powell Watts won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for her debut story collection, We Are Taking Only What We Need (2012), also named one of 2013’s Best Summer Reads by O: The Oprah Magazine. Her short fiction has been included in two volumes of the Best New Stories from the South anthology and honored with a Pushcart Prize. Ms. Powell Watts’s stories explore the lives of African Americans in fast food and factory jobs, working door to door as Jehovah’s Witness ministers, and pressing against the boundaries of the small town, post-integration South. Her forthcoming debut novel, titled No One Is Coming to Save Us, follows the return of a successful native son to his home in North Carolina and his attempt to join the only family he ever wanted but never had. As Ms. Powell Watts describes it, “Imagine The Great Gatsby set in rural North Carolina, nine decades later, with desperate black people.” Born in the foothills of North Carolina, with a PhD from the University of Missouri and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she now lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she is an associate professor at Lehigh University.

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

 

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As stated in Goodreads:

The discovery of long-buried secrets brings three generations of women together to Cape Cod for the summer homecoming of a lifetime.

Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it’s paid off: on the cusp of thirty she has a handsome fiancé, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and her father’s hard-won admiration. But with one careless mistake at work, Marin suddenly finds herself unemployed and alone. Before she can summon the courage to tell her parents, a young woman appears, claiming to be Marin’s half-sister. Seeking answers, Marin agrees to join her on a soul-searching journey to Cape Cod, to meet the family she didn’t even know she had.

As the summer unfolds at her grandmother’s beachside B&B, it becomes clear that her half-sister’s existence is just the first in a series of truths that will shake Marin’s beliefs–in love, and in her own identity–to the core. Filled with shocking revelations, heartfelt romance, and resilient women banding together against the most unexpected twists of fate, THE FOREVER SUMMER is an emotionally resonant page-turner, and a delicious escape for any season.

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Jamie Brenner is the author of THE FOREVER SUMMER coming in April from Little, Brown. Her previous novels include THE WEDDING SISTERS (St. Martin’s Press). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

 

My thoughts:

I literally could not put this book down – The Forever Summer was about so many things…love, loss, infidelity, illness, secrets, romance, commitment, revelations and personal truths. Each character has their own story, as in real life, and Jamie Brenner does a wonderful job showing the incredible strength in women and the undeniable power of family. Joining talented authors like Jane Green and Elin Hilderbrand, Jamie Brenner has written the next must read for your beach bag.  The New England Coast setting is my favorite for a juicy summer book – don’t miss this one!

Order The Forever Summer HERE

 

 

It’s Always the Husband

 

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Aubrey, Jenny and Kate are college roommates who come from very different backgrounds and instantly develop strong friendships. Kate is the bad girl who leads them to trouble and Jenny is the good girl who is always there to get them out of it. While in college, Aubrey loses her mother to cancer and feeling distraught, she proceeds to make some questionable decisions.   Jenny laments over a past relationship with Lucas but Lucas is getting caught up with Kate. There are some disagreements amongst the friends and a horrific tragedy occurs; things will never be the same again.

Fast forward 20 years and the three friends are all back in the same town. Aubrey is married to a cheating husband, Jenny is enjoying her power as the mayor and Kate is in a marriage of convenience. Then another unspeakable tragedy occurs and details from the past resurface causing questions to arise. Will the truth come out?

Murder, infidelity, bribery and corruption intertwined with love, friendship and loyalty keep this novel about college roommates and family relationships twisting and turning right up until the very last chapter. People lied.  People died.  Who is to blame? It’s Always the Husband is an engaging read that will keep you guessing!

It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell will be available May 16, 2017.

Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

 

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Marcy, a 56 year old devoted wife and mother of three is shocked and dismayed when she learns Harvey, her husband of 33 years who she loves and built a life with has cheated on her. Harvey, dedicated CEO of a bra factory has admitted to straying from his marriage to be with a young lingerie model leaving Marcy alone to pick up the pieces of her life; helping her own mother as she battles injury and illness, advising and guiding her adult children, starting a new job, and accepting the challenge of how to fill the void and not the refrigerator.
Faced with uncertainty of the future Marcy is forced to become the center of her own life and although it is difficult at first, she shows us all how a strong woman can keep a sense of humor while coming to terms with change and embracing a fresh new start.  Infidelity, remorse and forgiveness, death and birth, friendship, family and new beginnings: Lift and Separate covers it all and is a story told with drama, emotion and humor. Author Marilyn Simon Rothstein uses vivid, riddle like metaphors and colorful details to enrich this moving tale of heartbreak and healing. I cried tears and I laughed out loud, surely the sign of a good read when you need an escape!

 

About the author (picked up from Goodreads):

For more than twenty-five years, Marilyn Simon Rothstein owned an advertising agency in Connecticut. She grew up in New York City, earned a degree in journalism from New York University, began her writing career at Seventeen magazine, and married a man she met in an elevator. Marilyn received a master of arts in liberal studies from Wesleyan University and a master of arts in Judaic studies from the University of Connecticut.