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.”

NYS Summer Writers Institute: 5 More Lessons from Skidmore

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This second, and final, week of the New York State Summer Writers Institute brings with it a new teacher for my Advanced Fiction course, Paul Harding (Pulitzer Prize winner for  Tinkers), and an ongoing full schedule of visiting authors to share their work in readings and craft talks.  As my time at Skidmore draws to a close, here are 5 more lessons I will take with me at the end of the week, along with duffel bags full of mementos for my family and many, many signed books to read for the first time (or enjoy again). Although I will return home soon, I find great comfort in knowing, as is true with most formative experiences, that NYSSWI will never really leave me.

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  1. Do the student reading organized for Sunday afternoon.

    So many of the student writers at Skidmore were nervous or hesitant to put their names down for the reading. For those of us who did, I can tell you that every author I spoke to said they were glad they went for it. Sure, you get nervous before you have to go–I teach in front of 200 undergraduates throughout the year, and it surprised me how raucous the butterflies in my stomach got before my turn–but the opportunity to share your work aloud with writers you’ve befriended over the last week is special, to say the least. For days following, I saw fellow writers approach each other to comment on the pieces shared, on exquisite lines spoken aloud, and to ask each other about their inspirations for their work. In other words, the student reading helped bring us closer together as a writing community. An added bonus, Bob and Peg Boyers attended the student readings and later spoke with several students to comment on their pieces. Totally worth the butterflies.

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With Paul Harding after class. . .

2. Having tandem teachers is beneficial to your growth as a writers.

We were all sad to say goodbye to Amy Hempel at the end of our first week at Skidmore. It felt like, just as we were getting comfortable with each other, our classes with her were done. Two classes into Paul Harding’s portion of the workshop, though, the wisdom behind having two instructors for the workshop is apparent to me. Amy and Paul offer their unique styles to molding developing writers and, by the end of the two weeks, a student has a wealth of diverse techniques and recommendations from both writers to process as they proceed with their own writing career. To offer just a few pieces of wisdom from these accomplished writers:

Avoid vacuums in your writing, because the reader will fill it in for themselves. (Paul)

Read Mary Robison. (Amy)

Slow down. (Paul)

Humility as a writer is a powerful protection from feelings of inferiority. (Amy) 

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Ask yourself: Does the story begin where it should? (Amy)

Fiction tries to describe human existence, not explain it. (Paul)

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3. Go see the horses at the racetrack in the morning.

I find horses to be captivating animals, so perhaps this lesson won’t work for those who are ambivalent towards or afraid of them. But, for those who are like me, there is nothing like watching a horse be groomed, petted, walked, and tended to with gentle precision to inspire your engagement with the world. I went to the stables around 7am (it’s about a 30 minute walk from Skidmore, or a 5 minute drive) and saw the horses being washed with an attention to detail–especially their legs and hooves–that could only be described as tender.  The groomsmen and the horses were reliant on each other in that moment–the horse for proper care to keep it healthy, the groomer that the horse would not harm him as he provided this care–and their symbiotic need for each other struck me as utterly beautiful. So go and watch–I dare you to not be inspired.

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4.Watch out for the Sidewalks.

On a more practical note, if you go to watch the horses or on any other amble about town, beware of the treacherous sidewalks. I used my morning run as the means of transporting myself to the racetrack, but ended up tripping on the uneven and disintegrating sidewalks of this otherwise well-tended town and scraping myself up. Although there are worse things than being reminded of what it was like to 8 years old  (skinned knees, elbows, and all), I recommend being careful where you step.

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Having fun at The Wine Bar after the student readings.

5. Make friends and spend time going off campus with them.

I can assure you that you will make friends at Skidmore. The climate here is cultivated such that it is supportive, rather than competitive. Your fellow writers will be there to encourage and challenge you constructively to become a better artist, and will cheer on your successes as you would cheer on theirs. A few highlights from the social side of Skidmore:

The Merry Monk has fabulous food, beer, and frites. Go for the garlic aioli mayo.

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The Wine Bar, along with our friendly waiter Colin, was a chic setting for drinks and munchies after the student reading on Sunday. Many stories of adolescent hijinks were shared over excellent bottles of wine.

Uncommon Grounds might be pricey for coffee, but their lattes are well worth the extra pocket change.

The Bow Tie Criterion Movie Theater is just a 20 minute walk away–we went to see the new Ghostbusters. Sharing laughs proved a great tonic for homesickness and forged friendships even further.

Char Koon might not be designed fully for in-house eating, but the food is delicious and the environment inside is quiet. It’s a good place to sit and talk about writing, and things other than writing, with your new friends.

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One bonus lesson: Go to the readings in the evening and the receptions to follow.

When else will you get a chance to talk to accomplished writers about their lives, their work, and writing in general? Be brave and start a conversation with an author you admire–at Skidmore, generosity, rather than ego, rules.