Put a Spring in your Reading

As the winter doldrums give way to Spring showers (and–hopefully soon–flowers), I’ve been enjoying some thrilling reads that got my pulse racing and my eyes flying over the pages to see what happens.

I highly recommend any and all of the below for you to enjoy as the snow gives way to sunshine. . .

1. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

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This pic is aptly framed, as this read was red-hot with intriguing twists and razor-sharp prose.

Back of the Book Summary: “Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.

To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

With shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fresh, juicy, and utterly addictive thriller from a diabolically imaginative talent.”

2. The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

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Excellent domestic suspense with an ending you won’t expect!

Back of the Book Summary: “Abby looks forward to meeting the family who just moved in across the street—until she realizes they’re the one couple who could expose her deepest secrets

After a night of fun back in 1992, Abby is responsible for a car crash that kills her beloved brother. It’s a mistake she can never forgive, so she pushes away Liam, the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames—the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret, that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam moves into the neighborhood with his own family, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the terrible secrets they’ve both been carrying…”

3. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Do Not Become Alarmed: A Novel by [Meloy, Maile]

Exotic locales, exquisite prose, and the threat of a new danger with each turn of the page. . .

Back of the Book Summary: The sun is shining, the sea is blue, the children have disappeared.

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The adults are lulled by the ship’s comfort and ease. The four children—ages six to eleven—love the nonstop buffet and their newfound independence. But when they all go ashore for an adventure in Central America, a series of minor misfortunes and miscalculations leads the families farther from the safety of the ship. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.
 
The disintegration of the world the families knew—told from the perspectives of both the adults and the children—is both riveting and revealing. The parents, accustomed to security and control, turn on each other and blame themselves, while the seemingly helpless children discover resources they never knew they possessed.
 
Do Not Become Alarmed is a story about the protective force of innocence and the limits of parental power, and an insightful look at privileged illusions of safety. Celebrated for her spare and moving fiction, Maile Meloy has written a gripping novel about how quickly what we count on can fall away, and the way a crisis shifts our perceptions of what matters most.”

4. Sleep No More by P.D. James

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Despite all of Jasper’s evidence to the contrary, this collection of short stories from my beloved P.D. James is perfectly titled–read and remember once again why she’s called the “Queen of Crime Fiction.”

Back of the Book Summary: “No one gets inside the head of the murderer—or makes it a more thrilling read—than the late, great P. D. James. Fast on the heels of her latest best seller: a new, fiendishly entertaining gathering of previously uncollected stories, from the author of Death Comes to Pemberley and The Private Patient.

It’s not always a question of “whodunit?” Sometimes there’s more mystery in the why or how. And although we usually know the unhealthy fates of both victim and perpetrator, what of those clever few who plan and carry out the perfect crime? The ones who aren’t brought down even though they’re found out? And what about those who do the finding out who witness a murder or who identify the murderer but keep the information to themselves? These are some of the mysteries that we follow through those six stories as we are drawn into the thinking, the memories, the emotional machinations, the rationalizations, the dreams and desires behind murderous cause and effect.”

Just so you know: Naomi Jackson is totally worth 40 Hrs on a Megabus

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Royalty with her constituents.

I recently completed my four in-house Master Fiction classes with Naomi Jackson at Catapult in NYC (with two more to go remotely). This required that I board a Megabus in my small central Pennsylvania town on Thursday morning, careen across the pasture lands for 5 hours, plus at least an hour of stop-and-go New Jersey traffic and Lincoln Tunnel nausea, rush down Fashion Ave. to our class at 7pm, eat dinner with friends, sleep, and then board another Megabus Friday morning for the reverse journey back home.

All in all, I spent 40 hours (at least) in travel time for only 8 hours of actual class.

And you know what? It was totally worth it.

Why? Because of Naomi. Because of my classmates. Because of Catapult.

As a writer whose professional training is in another field (in my case, development psychology), I find that professional writers whose training encompasses years of building their craft in intensive programs (Naomi went to Iowa) simply view words, language, and narrative differently. Taking a class with Naomi allowed me to benefit from her capacity to take a piece and distill it down to its essential components. I work-shopped two short stories that I knew were strong, but just not fully realized yet. Naomi’s feedback revealed to me what was missing–elements that I would not have discovered on my own.

The best way I can describe this process is that Naomi’s perspective is like an x-ray of an entire work–she sees not just the flesh, but the bones of a story or novel, and that also means she can see what doesn’t belong, what has ruptured in the narrative, which characters or themes are too porous or weak. It’s a skill built from years of training and careful observation of the written word, and there is absolutely no shortcut to this endpoint. She has earned this skill, and her students can only benefit from it. I certainly did.

Notes and notes and notes…
Another important tool was the way Naomi constructed the feedback portions of the course. We each read the submitted pieces, brought detailed notes and a written letter for our fellow classmate, and then discussed the piece in our group class, but the discussions followed their own important narrative arc.

Naomi insisted we begin with Aboutness–What did we feel the piece was about? This allowed the author to see whether the themes they  thought they’d captured were actually realized in the reader’s experience with the work.
Secondly, we provided Warm feedback. What is working in the piece? What are its strengths.

Only then did we head into Cool feedback, describing to the author what we felt could be improved upon.

I know many writers, myself included, have felt gutted by workshops, where classmates take critique opportunities as a venue to attack another writer in order to make themselves appear more intelligent or talented to the instructor. Naomi does not allow this to happen, partly through the structure she institutes and partly through the atmosphere of respect and constructive discourse she embodies in her own feedback.

 

In other words, taking a workshop with Naomi will make you a better writer, but it also won’t make you cry, question your existence, or imagine writing angry e-mails to each of your fellow students.

Which brings me to my fellow classmates, who are all incredibly talented, generous, and people I now call my friends. A group is only as strong as its components, and alongside Naomi’s skillful leadership I am certain the time and attention each of my classmates gave to my work has helped me grow further as a writer. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading their work, and cannot wait to hold published books and stories in my hand, as I am sure I will have a chance to do for each of them in the near future.

I cannot recommend Naomi’s class enough–and I hope you get the chance I did to work with her. You’ll be a better writer for it, and isn’t that what we all want to become?