What I’m Reading This Weekend: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Happy Friday! This weekend I’m reading, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. I’ve never read anything by her (but I hear great things!) so I’m really looking forward to this.

I seem to be on a dark, atmospheric book kick just lately. Last week I read Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, a ghosty, twisty thriller that I devoured in less than a day. My TBR pile is filled to overflowing with beachy reads but my current reading tastes seem to be skewing toward October!

What are you reading right now? Any suggestions? I love getting good book recs!

From the publisher, William Morrow

The Guest List

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

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Eleven Steps For Feeling, and Staying, More Positive

A picture of me and my son on top of Haleakala at sunrise. This one always makes me smile and reminds me of a hundred things that I’m grateful for.

Even in the best of times (and right now, we are nowhere near “the best of times”) stress, worry, and often overwhelming pressures are always turning up the burners under our life. Our attentions are constantly pulled in a thousand different, and often conflicting, directions. We read social media and get angry. We watch the news and feel powerless. We try to do our jobs and raise our families and feel overwhelmed. Our emotions end up on a runaway freight train headed for a panic attack.

Here are a few tricks to help slow you down.

1- Be aware of your thoughts. Really pay attention to what you’re thinking. Your thoughts drive your emotions.

2- If you find you are entertaining lots of negative thoughts, or maybe you’re even in the middle of a negative thought spiral, say this word gently to yourself. “Stop.” Say it in your head or even out loud, but say it kindly. Like you were talking to a young child you love very much.

3- Great, now you have your own attention! If your brain is still trying to gallop away on that negative stallion, take it softly by the shoulders and repeat, “Stop.” Then look your brain in the eyes and say. “Okay? Can we do this? Let’s stop. Let’s take some breaths.”

4- Take some breaths. Really do this. I know it sounds lame, do it anyway because it really helps.

5- Then say to your brain. “I know there are a million bad, horrible, annoying, terrifically terrible things you’re very, very worried about. But, did you know that worrying yourself into an anxiety attack really WON’T DO ANYTHING to make all that awful stuff go away. Honest to God, freaking yourself out changes nothing and actually makes it that much harder to work toward some solutions for whatever might be in your power to change.

6- More breaths here. Five, ten, twenty, take as many as you need until some sense of centered begins to return.

7- Once you have the tiniest grip, make your brain think of one positive thing in your life. Just one. Even if it’s only the fact that you are alive, breathing, able to read and think. Hang onto this thought and focus on the fact that this is a good thing in your life right now.

8- Awesome. Now can you think of a second thing? Try it. You have shelter, food, a person you love or that loves you in your life. A dog? Anything. Focus on those two good things.

9- Now, please go outside. More breaths. Big deeps ones filled with some fresh air. Start walking. Walk to the end of your block, the edge of your neighborhood. To that park, tree, trail, monument, building, whatever it is that is far enough for you to get some movement and change of environment.

10- Try to imagine letting go of some of the cognitive weight you’re carrying around. Obviously you can’t let it all go–you’re living and working through this life, I get it. But do you really need to bear all of it all at the same time? Prioritize your concerns by hanging onto one or two things that both need your immediate attention AND are within your control to do something about in the short term.

11- This is a big one: Pay attention to outside influences on your thinking and emotions. News, social media, toxic people. Either take a break, cut these out, or limit your exposure to these influences. This might mean getting your news from a single source once a day, limiting social media (especially those really toxic ones. Hint: if you feel angry reading certain people’s posts, that’s a big clue that maybe it’s time to switch them off), and reducing contact with your IRL people who are not good for your mental health. It might take some time, and retraining of old habits, but it’s worth it. Picture yourself reducing those negative influences and replacing them with more positive ones. Small changes every day, little by little, it adds up. In a month, you’d have a more positive outlook and a real sense of personal agency over your life and environment. This, consequently, would lead to having the ability to problem-solve, and actually do something, about many of those things that were worrying you in the first place.

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Seemingly Happy Accidents Between You and the Page

I was working on the new book today. Pushing my main character up against walls, depriving her of her desires, and it got me thinking about what she wanted. Which, of course, needs to happen with every character in every book. That understanding of what they desire and what is keeping them from achieving it is a necessary analysis every writer has to explore. At least, I think they should.

I had figured out before I even started writing this book that Alyson (my main character) most wanted safety. Safety for her son, herself, her marriage. So it’s interesting to me to read through all the many scenes in this book where that safety is being jeopardized–especially when I didn’t explicitly or consciously craft it with that intent. And yet, there it is. Again and again–references to safety in this scene, that statement, those actions, and I didn’t purposefully mean for that to be the case. Themes sometimes infiltrate books without needing much intention from the author.

This is one thing I love about writing the most. The seemingly happy accidents and layers that you can stumble across in your own work. They always surprise me and remind me that, no matter how much you study the craft and plan your books, there is still a mysterious element that finds it’s way from you to the page, which for me, always feels like the very essence of creation itself.

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Winner’s of My Women’s Fiction Day Giveaway

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Women’s Fiction Day events! It was awesome to connect with so many new readers and book bloggers!

I’m announcing the winners of my giveaway today. If it wasn’t you, don’t worry. I love to give things away, especially books. I can guarantee there will be other fun bookish things up for grabs in the future!

So please stick around.

The winners from Monday who both subscribed to my blog and left a comment were:

Kristyn, Melissa.P, and Pamela.C.

I’ll be sending each of you an email this evening so I can get your mailing address.

Thank you again to everyone who entered and I look forward to getting to know each of you!

One Week Later…Her Perfect Life is Out in the World

It happened. Her Perfect Life published and went out into the world on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020.

This date has been circled on my calendar for over a year, ever since my editor gave me the official pub date in April of 2019.

I had imagined that day, and what it would feel like for 18 years.

As you may well imagine, it ended up nothing at all like I had imagined.

I want to thank all the friends and readers out in the world who have been so supportive and encouraging–I feel very fortunate to be on this road with you.

Women’s Fiction Day

Happy Women’s Fiction Day!

Women’s Fiction Day was established by WFWA in 2019. It is a day to celebrate the authors, stories, readers, bookstores, and fans of the women’s fiction genre. It’s a day we hope finds our fans on the beach or somewhere relaxing as summer reading season kicks off.

To celebrate, I’m giving away three signed copies of my recent release, Her Perfect Life.

It’s easy to enter.

  1. Leave a comment below letting me know you’d like a copy.
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Here are some other ways you can help celebrate Women’s Fiction Day

  • Support our genre by reading books and posting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, through your own social media accounts and blogs.
  • Give women’s fiction stories as gifts, donate them to your local library
  • Organize a writing event
  • Organize a book talk or book club event
  • Tell the world what you’re reading!

Share your Women’s Fiction Day ideas and promotion with WFWA on our Facebook Page, and tag us on Instagram and Twitter.

For a list of participating authors and links to their individual giveaways, please visit the Women’s Fiction Writers Association website.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Kelly Duran, Can’t Take it Back

About Kelly Duran:

Writing has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I love to create characters and stories and see where my imagination takes them. When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me hanging out with my husband and two daughters with—depending on the time of day—either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in my hand. And a book in my purse.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Can’t Take It Back?

A: The primary inspiration was the strength and importance of my female friendships. Throughout my life I have leaned on my friends to see me through good times and bad and I know I did the same for them. I wanted to celebrate them with a story that showed four women each going through their own personal issues but relying on each other for support. The story evolved into something a little more dramatic but at the core there are the four friends, helping each other, guiding each other, and never judging. I’ve also always been drawn to stories that have intersecting storylines, where what is happening to one person is affecting another but they just don’t know it yet. Think Big Little Lies meets Love, Actually.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Nothing too intense. One of my characters explores the idea of an open marriage so I did a lot of research on that topic. There is a scene where Avery visits a local library to find books on the topic and that was something that I did myself. Other than that most of my research was focused on places. I used a real city called Lake Forest Park, just north of Seattle, as the location but took some pretty significant creative liberties on the layout of the town so I wound up changing the name. But my family and I did take a road trip there to drive around and get a feel for it. That was pretty cool.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: Reading and parenting. We have two daughters that are fairly active with school and sports so playing chauffeur takes up a lot of my time. The good thing about spending a lot of time in the car waiting for them is that I get a lot of reading done. I’ve usually got one book and one audiobook on the go at all times. I love to spend time wandering a bookstore with a coffee in hand or exploring one of our amazing parks or trails with my family. 

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: It’s really all over the place and the easy answer is “whenever I find some time”. I work from home so it’s nice to escape to a new setting to get focused. Most of CAN’T TAKE IT BACK was written at a variety of local coffee shops between the hours of 8 and 11pm (aka when the kids were in bed). With my next novel I’m trying to become an early morning writer. I’ve been waking up around 6 and managing to get about 1,000-1,500 words written before my family wakes up. I almost finished my first draft and, hopefully, when it’s done I don’t go back and realize all those early morning words written before I had coffee were complete gibberish. 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication? 

A: I went a little bit backward actually in that I had interest from an editor before signing with my agent. I participated in PitMad in June and Lara from Audible liked my pitch. After reading the full, we had “the call” about producing CAN’T TAKE IT BACK as an exclusive audiobook. With that offer in hand I reached out to all the agents I had queried and gave them a little nudge. At that point I had been querying for just over four months and had contacted 58 agents. One of the agents at the top of my wishlist responded right away, read my full manuscript and I signed with her a few days later. Katie finished the negotiations with Audible and my deal was announced in November. I learned that audiobook publication moves a lot faster than traditional publishing. It only took four months from the deal being signed to the release. So it was a whirlwind of edits, cover approval, narrator approval, production and release.

Get Your Copy Today (Available only on Audible)

From the publisher, Amazon Audible (exclusive)

A perfect next listen for fans of Abbi Waxman and Katherine Center, Can’t Take It Back is a fast-paced and relatable debut telling the interconnected stories of four women over the course of a kindergarten school year.

Huddled on their favorite park bench in a quiet Seattle suburb, Holly, Avery, Zoe, and Sasha might look like they’ve got it all figured out – but there’s more to their stories than meets the eye. When Avery’s husband Carter suggests they open up their marriage, she’s shocked and appalled – but could this new arrangement be the breath of fresh air she never knew she needed? Zoe and Aaron, whose connection has long been the standard by which their friends measure their own relationships, feel that their lives are taking them in different directions, but worry over how a divorce might affect their two young boys. Zoe turns to her best friend Holly for guidance, but as it turns out, this year has tested her own marriage to Jake in ways neither of them ever anticipated. And meanwhile, Holly’s sister Sasha – the no-nonsense PR executive and eternally single girl of the group – must decide if joining the ranks of motherhood is the right step for her

Captivating and immersive, Can’t Take It Back is a deeply emotional novel that celebrates the complex bond of female friendships.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Anita Kushwaha, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters

Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. Her road to publication included a fulfilling career in academia, where she studied human geography at Carleton University and earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers creative writing program, her work has appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, The 49th Shelf, Open Book, Word on the Street, and Canadian Living among others. Her first novel, Side by Side, won an Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Silver Medal for Multicultural Fiction in 2019. She is also the author of a novella, The Escape Artist. Her latest novel, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, released in January 2020 by HarperCollins Canada, was named a “Books With Buzz” by Canadian Living, chosen as Word on the Street’s March Book of the Month, a Most-Anticipated Spring Fiction selection by The 49th Shelf and Savvymomdotca, and a recommended read by The Girly Book Club. She lives in Ottawa.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Secret Lives of Mothers and Daughters?

A: Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is a mother-daughter story told in alternating timelines. First, we meet Asha, a young woman of eighteen who is about to start university and is excited about the future, when her parents reveal to her a long-kept family secret – that she is adopted, her birth mother died shortly after she was born, and her father was unable to raise her on his own. Her birth mother leaves behind a letter for Asha that raises more questions than it answers. This thrusts Asha on a fraught journey of self-discovery as she confronts the big questions: Who am I? What happened to my birth parents? Why didn’t they keep me? Am I loveable? Can I ever trust my parents again? Asha discovers that the answers to her questions are far more complicated than she could have imagined.

Next, we have Mala, a bright young scholar who is returning to her doctoral studies after being on leave following the sudden and tragic death of her father. Her plans are interrupted when her mother, who is increasingly worried about securing her future in the wake of her father’s death, asks something of Mala that places her in a difficult position. From that point onward, Mala feels torn between duty and desire, struggling to meet her mother’s expectations while also being true to herself.

As the story unfolds, we see how these two timelines intertwine. More broadly, the book is about the ties that bind mothers and daughters together, and the secrets that tear them apart, and the particular social and cultural pressures faced by the South Asian characters in the novel. 

In terms of inspiration, I knew I would write a book having to do with arranged marriage someday because growing up in a small town, it was one of the characteristics that distinguished the origins of my family from that of those around me, and was often misunderstood, which at times became a source of shame for me and made me feel like our family was somehow less authentic than those around us. In writing the book, I wanted to explore the idea that all relationships, regardless of their origins, are arrangements of one sort or another, with their own particular advantages and disadvantages, freedoms and constraints.

The other themes that I wanted to explore in the book are those that seem to make their way into my writing—immigrant experiences, intergenerational conflict, the consequences of silence, identity, belonging, and mental health examined through a cultural lens.

I also knew I’d write a tragic love story someday, and wanted to give a nod to my love of Victorian novels, especially the works of the Brontes, hence the influence of Jane Eyre in the book, which also speaks to another subtle theme, that is, the ability of fiction to connect people through time.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: This book wasn’t research-heavy at all. It was more about mining my life and background to get to the heart of the issues like cultural expectations, authenticity, the costs of not living one’s truth.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: When I’m not writing, I often find myself engaging with activities that help fill my creative well. I love to run, listen to music, practice yoga, spend time outdoors with my husband, bake, nap with my cat Noodles, binge on Netflix, and of course READ!

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: I’m the type of person who likes to feel productive every day and who also loves structure.  I suppose my approach to the day is my habit. A typical writing day starts early with a cup of tea. I try my best to stay away from social media until I’ve gotten a couple of solid hours done. Then I usually like to go for a run or a walk. After lunch, I’ll either write for a couple more hours or review what I wrote earlier in the day. Not glamorous, but it gets things done. In terms of where I write, I like to give myself the ability to wander, but having said that, I do most of my writing at our beautiful handmade dining room table, most likely in the company of our cat, Noodles.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication? 

A: The short answer is LONG! I knew I wanted to be writer from a young age, but growing up in an immigrant household, pursuing the arts wasn’t an option. So, it took me a long time to play catch-up and find the self-belief to pursue my dream. Meeting my husband really changed things for me. He’s always had this unwavering faith that I could do it and he’s been such a tremendous support. He also works in a creative field, so we’re able to bounce ideas off each other. In the acknowledgements, I thank him for being my first reader, plotting partner, therapist, and cheerleader. Before committing to writing full-time, I had a career in academia, which was actually great training for my life as a writer, for instance, the collaborative process of writing and defending a dissertation has quite a few things in common with some of the editorial experiences I’ve had.

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From the publisher, Harper Collins

For readers of Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s “Secret Daughter” and Nancy Richler’s “The Imposter Bride,” a breathtaking novel from Anita Kushwaha about the ties that bind mothers and daughters together and the secrets that tear them apart.

Veena, Mala and Nandini are three very different women with something in common. Out of love, each bears a secret that will haunt her life—and that of her daughter—when the risk of telling the truth is too great. But secrets have consequences. Particularly to Asha, the young woman on the cusp of adulthood who links them together.

On the day after her eighteenth birthday, Asha is devastated to learn that she was adopted as a baby. What’s more, her birth mother died of a mysterious illness, leaving Asha with only a letter.

Nandini, Asha’s adoptive mother, has always feared the truth would come between them.

Veena, a recent widow, worries about her daughter Mala’s future. The shock of her husband’s sudden death leaves her shaken and convinces her that the only way to keep her daughter safe is to secure her future.

Mala struggles to balance her dreams and ambition with her mother’s expectations. She must bear a secret, the burden of which threatens her very life. Three mothers, bound by love, deceit and a young woman who connects them all.

Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is an intergenerational novel about family, duty and the choices we make in the name of love.

Release date: Out now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Barbara Linn Probst, Queen of the Owls

Barbara Linn Probst is a writer, researcher, clinician, and “serious amateur” pianist living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley.


Author Interview

Q: In a sentence or two, what’s Queen of the Owls about? 

A: Queen of the Owls is the story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague. Framed around the life and art of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, it dares to ask a question every woman can relate to: what would you risk to be truly seen and known?

Q: Why Georgia O’Keeffe? 

A: Truthfully, the notion of framing the story around Georgia O’Keeffe—her little-known Hawaii painting, and the photos taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz—simply “came to me.” 

I’ve always loved O’Keeffe’s paintings. They called to me, especially at a particular time in my life, in a way that felt very connected to the question of what it means to be a woman, so there was that seed. And then, in starting to do some preliminary research, I learned so much about O’Keeffe that ended up enhancing the story in ways I couldn’t possibly have anticipated. After a while, it became clear that there was no other way to tell this story!  

O’Keeffe herself isn’t a character in the book, as she might be if this were historical fiction. Yet she’s present throughout as Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate. And, of course, in seeking to understand O’Keeffe, Elizabeth comes to understand herself. 

O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century—not only for her artistic genius, but also because of how she lived. She was the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch, the austere desert recluse who created some of the most sensuous art of all time. A pioneer, full of contradictions. No wonder she fascinates Elizabeth!

Q: You mentioned research. Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Did I ever!  Not only did I read everything I could dig out of the archives at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center in Santa Fe, but I went to view her paintings for myself, visited the places where she lived and worked, talked to experts and people who knew her. 

And I got really, really lucky because there was a special exhibit of O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings—which is a central focus of the book—brought together for the first time in eighty years, and on view only thirty minutes from where I live! It was such a wild coincidence. Then again, so many things like that happened that I could only conclude that this was a book I had to write. 

Q: What was it about this particular story that drew you? 

A: Ah, time for a bit of self-disclosure! Queen of the Owls is a work of fiction, but the story is close to my heart.  I know what it’s like to be seen as a “brain” instead of a whole woman and to find my way to healing and wholeness. Maybe it sounds corny, but I wanted to help others to do that too. Not by preaching at them, but by “incarnating” an inner quest within a darned good story. 

I also wanted to address some important issues facing women nowadays— privacy, consent, feminism, , the power of social media to upend our lives—in a story that would resonate with women regardless of age, region, background. 

Q: What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of writing for you?

One of the challenges of writing is my own perfectionism!  I labor and labor over the rhythm, the phrase, the precise word or image. Then, at some point, you just have to let go and trust that you’ve done good work. That can be really hard, because there’s always the sense that you could do more, polish it even further.

What’s most rewarding for me is the sense of being a kind of midwife to a story that I truly believe will speak to readers and perhaps help them to see and experience something new. 

I love the total immersion that happens when you’re deeply connected to the story and characters. It’s a special state when your subconscious mind and your conscious mind (the part that can give form to what the subconscious understands) are perfectly connected.  When I’m in that zone, it feels like the story is coming through me, rather than me inventing it.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I’m what they call a “serious amateur” pianist—which totally love because it engages a completely different part of me that has nothing to do with words!  I also love to cook, hike, and travel. I’ve spent extended time in Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Iceland, Italy—well, you name it! I think it’s really important to get out of your comfort zone and see life in different ways.

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From the publisher, She Writes Press

A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life.

Until she met Richard, Elizabeth’s relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe and her little-known Hawaii paintings was purely academic. Now it’s personal. Richard tells Elizabeth that the only way she can truly understand O’Keeffe isn’t with her mind—it’s by getting into O’Keeffe’s skin and reenacting her famous nude photos.

In the intimacy of Richard’s studio, Elizabeth experiences a new, intoxicating abandon and fullness. It never occurs to her that the photographs might be made public, especially without her consent. Desperate to avoid exposure—she’s a rising star in the academic world and the mother of young children—Elizabeth demands that Richard dismantle the exhibit. But he refuses. The pictures are his art. His property, not hers.

As word of the photos spreads, Elizabeth unwittingly becomes a feminist heroine to her students, who misunderstand her motives in posing. To the university, however, her actions are a public scandal. To her husband, they’re a public humiliation. Yet Richard has reawakened an awareness that’s haunted Elizabeth since she was a child—the truth that cerebral knowledge will never be enough.

Now she must face the question: How much is she willing to risk to be truly seen and known?