Warm days, long nights, the beach and a new novel from Elin Hilderbrand equal summer perfection! This year, the Nantucket resident and bestselling novelist with over four million copies of her books in print returns to her beloved island to bring us The Matchmaker. Dabney has always had a magical gift for matchmaking, which her husband and daughter view as merely meddlesome. But with over 40 happy couples to her credit, none of whom have consciously uncoupled, it’s hard to question her instincts. However, the one person she may have failed is herself. So when Clendenin Hughes returns to the island, she comes face to face with the man who stole her heart so long ago. Readers will relish the romance at the heart of The Matchmaker, an engaging story about losing and finding love.
Get to know Elin as she answers questions about her newest blockbuster, the food and books she brings to the beach and reminisces about her time in Baltimore.
Between the Covers: Dabney Kimball is the matchmaker in your latest book who has an almost mythical gift for creating perfect pairs. Have you ever successfully matched a couple? Would you ever attempt to interfere in your children's or other family members' love lives like Dabney does?
Elin Hilderbrand: I have never matched anyone myself, no. I basically take a non-interventionist policy across the board, and always have. I do believe that in matters of love, luck reigns. Some marriages work for no apparent reason and some fail for no apparent reason. Love, in my opinion, is a crapshoot.
BTC: Dabney is a woman with secrets at a crossroads. While her matchmaking ability is unique, she is still such a relatable character in the same vein as your previous heroines. How do you create such distinctive, strong female characters? Are they modeled after real people?
EH: Dabney came to me in pieces, and as with my other characters, I started with her flaws. She has a strange phobia about leaving the island...which caused her to lose the only man she ever truly loved...which left her in her current predicament of being married to one man and in love with another. I love all of Dabney's idiosyncrasies, her way of dressing, her habits, her rituals — but none of this matters without her darling, pure, sweet heart. Dabney is older than me, but I love her like she's my child.
BTC: You bring Nantucket to life so vividly in The Matchmaker and in almost all of your other novels. What is it about the island that captured your heart?
EH: When my ferry first pulled into Nantucket harbor, I knew I was a goner. I like to paraphrase John Denver and say it was like coming home to a place I'd never been before. The historically preserved downtown and the 50 miles of pristine beach combine in a way that makes me ache. I love authenticity — and there is no other place in the world that is like Nantucket Island.
BTC: Before settling in Nantucket, you spent time here in Baltimore where you graduated from Johns Hopkins University. Did you enjoy your time in Charm City? What do you miss most?
EH: I have wonderful memories of Baltimore, most of them Hopkins-centered. My roommates and I used to hang out at PJ's Pub across the street from the library. Fifty cent pizza slices on Sundays! I adored the Baltimore Museum of Art, which was on campus, and Fells Point, especially Bertha's Mussels. One of my favorite memories was moving our couch out onto our front yard during Opening Day, back when the Orioles played at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street — our house was at 33rd and Calvert so everyone walked by us, including Richard Gephart. I think what I miss most is the lacrosse. As a 1991 graduate of Hopkins, I saw the best lacrosse anyone can hope to see — it was the era of Dave Pietramala and Quint Kessinich verses the Gait brothers — Paul and Gary — from Syracuse.
BTC: You’re a long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles fan. Do you think this is going to be their Super Bowl year? Do you have a favorite baseball team? How do your family and friends feel about your non-New England football fandom?
EH: I am a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan from childhood, but I don't think they will ever win a Super Bowl. In the tradition of Philly fandom, I have been disappointed too many times to hold out any hope. In baseball, I root for the Red Sox — that is a tremendous ball club, and Fenway Park is phenomenal. My kids root for the Sox and the Pats, although they also cheer on the Eagles, but probably only because they feel sorry for me.
BTC: Share some of your process. Do you write every day? Where? Who do you use as a sounding board?
EH: I write every day that I'm able — which, as my career soars, gets harder and harder. I also have three children who need to be driven around the island to their various sporting events. But I normally take three to four days a week to dedicate to my composing, and in this way, I have managed to finish a book a year. The only people who read my work are my two agents and my editor, Reagan Arthur. Reagan and I have a relationship based in extreme respect. She tells me what to do to fix a book, and I do it.
BTC: You’ve said you write at the beach in the summer, do you also take time to read while surf-side? What books will be in your beach bag this summer? More importantly, what are the must-haves in your picnic basket?
EH: I am constantly reading. For me, reading is working, because immersing myself in other stories inspires me. Right now, I'm reading Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, which I love. Also on my list are Thirty Girls by Susan Minot and The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman.
Now, in my picnic basket: my own grilled zucchini dip and chips, lobster salad, corn salad, watermelon and Bing cherries. I'm also a big fan of chilled soups. I make a yellow tomato gazpacho that has fresh orange juice and a little bit of cream in it. It's a drug.
BTC: Readers will be delighted to learn that the wait for your next novel is short, as this fall you share the snowy side of Nantucket with Winter Street. Can you give readers a sneak peek of what to expect from this holiday story?
EH: I've never read a Christmas novel myself, but I can say the most fun I've ever had writing a novel was the two and a half months I spent writing Winter Street. It's about a family named the Quinns who run a bed and breakfast on Nantucket, and two days before Christmas, their lives sort of communally fall apart. In addition to family drama, there are nutcrackers, Byers Choice carolers, homemade ornaments, carols banged out on the piano, shots of whiskey, private jets, engagement rings, plum pudding, fires in the hearth, Santa Claus suits and champagne and caviar. If you're an Elin Hilderbrand fan, Winter Street comes highly recommended.
With over 4.5 million copies of her books in print, Jennifer Weiner’s career is at an all-time high. Her new novel All Fall Down will almost certainly be on bestsellers lists this summer. The story follows Allison Weiss, a hardworking wife and mom who seems to have it all. In reality, she is crumbling under the pressure of her stressful life and has become addicted to prescription painkillers. With her trademark wit and relatable style, Weiner takes the reader through Allison’s downward spiral into addiction and then in her journey to recovery.
Weiner recently answered some questions for our Between the Covers readers. Read on to learn more about what inspired her new novel and where she writes. (Hint: It’s Carrie Bradshaw-inspired!) She also shares her picks for your summer reading list.
What inspired you to write this story?
When I turned 40 – lo these many years ago – I started thinking a lot about happiness. I think it’s in everyone’s nature – certainly it’s in mine – to set goals, and to think, When this happens, I’ll feel happy, or, as soon as I’ve achieved this, I’ll never be sad again. Writers, in particular, fall prey to this kind of thinking: When I get a book published, I’ll be happy and I won’t care if it gets a million bad reviews, or, if my book’s a best-seller, I’ll never let anything bother me again.
Of course, life doesn’t work out that way. No matter what you achieve, there’s always someone who’s done more, or done it faster, and no achievement guarantees perfect peace of mind. So the question becomes: What does happiness look like? How can people find it? What if it’s not what we’ve always believed?
I wanted to write about a character who’d hit all the mile markers, whose life looked like it should have been perfect, and to have that life not feel perfect to her. Allison’s got the handsome husband, the beautiful child, the big house, an interesting job that she likes…but none of it has silenced that voice inside of her, a voice I think so many women have, asking, Is that all? Is this it? And if it is, why do I feel so empty?
All Fall Down really highlights the fact that addiction impacts people of all ages and walks of life. Will you tell us a little bit about the research that you did while writing this book?
I spent time at several different facilities, I read a lot of books and blogs, I talked to lots of people…and then I spent a lot of time inside my own head, thinking about Allison. One of the things I heard from a counselor that really stayed with me was that addicts don’t have a problem with substances; they have a problem with feelings. They never learned how to handle sadness, or anger, or frustration, or disappointment, and the drugs or the alcohol are a symptom, not the disease itself.
Allison is a very relatable character. She’s a busy wife and mother who is struggling to keep the pieces of her life together. Do you see any of yourself in her?
Of course there’s some of me in all of my characters, even though my specifics aren’t exactly like Allison’s. I wanted to make her like me, but I wanted to make her like any mom you’d meet at Little Gym, or in the preschool parking lot. She’s funny, she’s stressed, she’s interesting, she’s overextended…she’s all of us.
Will you share a little bit about your writing process? Where do you write? Do you write every day?
I’m lucky not to be one of those writers who hate writing – I actually really enjoy it, and have ever since I learned how! I write pretty much every day, although sometimes I’ll skip the weekends if I’m busy with my kids. I do most of my writing in my closet, which sounds pathetic until I explain that I basically have Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City closet. Alas, I do not have Carrie’s wardrobe. Possibly because I do not have Carrie’s figure, and a lot of those designers of dresses she wore around Manhattan do not serve my kind.
So I have this gigantic closet which has turned into an office-library-storage space, with my daughters’ artwork hanging on the walls, and my big girl’s old clothes in boxes waiting for my little one to grow into them, and there’s a desk with a big light-up mirror. If Carrie lived in my house the vanity would be her makeup station, but that’s where I do my work.
Throughout your career, you have maintained a strong online presence on your blog and social media, and that has really allowed you to connect with your readers. How has that impacted your writing?
Again, I’m a lucky writer because I enjoy being online. I don’t regard it as a penance or a punishment. I like being quick and quippy on Twitter [follow her @jenniferweiner], I love interacting with readers on social media, and I love using it to get instant feedback – about a character’s name, about a book cover, about what my kids are up to. My suspicion is that readers like feeling that there’s a connection with an author they like.
What is the best book you’ve read recently? Are there any authors on your personal must-read list?
I loved Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. It’s about a kidnapping in Haiti, and it’s a very unsettling book, but oh, so good. And I’m counting the days until Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, the third book in his trilogy about young adult hipster magicians that attend a college for magic (his work has been described as Harry Potter for grownups, but I think it has more in common with the Narnia books). Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler and Laura Lippman are both automatic purchases for me – I love both of their styles!
Weiner's fans will also be pleased to know that she’s visiting Baltimore soon. She will discuss All Fall Down at Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Library on June 18.
In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic had such a profoundly devastating impact that drastic measures had to be taken to stem the infection, Elizabeth Fama’s new young adult novel Plus One covers this period in history. To keep up with the additional demands brought on by the pandemic, many more medical professionals were brought in and worked in shifts divided by night and day. This dual system worked so well in the medical field that it was integrated into other industries and finally the government.
Though the system was first designed with equality in mind, over time things changed. Day became the sought after curfew, offering better jobs and more economic advantages. Sol wanted nothing more than for her grandfather to see his first grand baby, but with her brother being day and she and her grandfather being night, the task was almost insurmountable.
Sol had almost no plan when she set out on her mission, so it was no surprise that an adventure ensues. This young adult novel follows Sol as she is betrayed by someone she’s supposed to love, loves someone she’s expected to hate and finds strength in unlikely places. Fama creates a fast-paced and compelling story with compassionate characters and an unexpected ending. Fans of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth should check out this standalone dystopian novel.
Don’t forget dear old dad’s special day is this Sunday. In the spirit of the day, enjoy this list of some of the most fabulous father figures in literature. If you have a favorite we missed, share in the comments.
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch is the gold standard of fathers. He is handsome, honest, a sharpshooter and just the world’s greatest dad. Harper Lee’s iconic character was given life by Gregory Peck in the film adaptation which prompted the American Film Institute to call Atticus the “greatest movie hero of the 20th century.”
Horton in Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. Horton the elephant is tricked into sitting on a bird's egg while its mother, Mayzie, takes a permanent vacation. Horton overcomes a variety of challenges, but remains committed to his task, stating, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred per cent!"
William in Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. Danny has the best life. He lives in a gypsy caravan, he works on cars and his best friend is his storyteller father, William. When the two embark on an adventure of a lifetime, their relationship deepens. This story of father-son love highlights a dad who Danny calls, "the most marvelous and exciting father a boy ever had."
The Man/The Father in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. An unnamed father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape. As the duo search for safety, the father realizes he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure and starvation.
Will Freeman in About a Boy by Nick Hornby. Will Freeman is a 36-year-old bachelor focused on wine, women and song. Marcus Brewer is an introverted middle school boy whose mother is suicidal. While their initial friendship is based on deceit, they come to respect and genuinely like each other, and a real relationship is formed.
Harry Silver in Man and Boy by Tony Parsons. Harry’s one-night stand starts a chain reaction of events immediately prior to his 30th birthday. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and he is suddenly a single parent to a 4-year-old. As Harry navigates the daily details of parenting, he focuses on the important relationships in his life – his son and his father.
Be sure to check out two new nonfiction titles which tackle the tricky world of fatherhood with humor and honesty. Good Talk, Dad by Bill and Willie Geist is a hilarious tribute to the special bond between fathers and sons, and Dave Engledow offers a hysterical photo-centric parody of one clueless dad and his adorable daughter in Confessions of the World’s Best Father.
Bill and Willie Geist have a great deal in common. They are both TV personalities: Bill on CBS News Sunday Morning and Willie on The Today Show. They both have a deep love of sports. They are both raconteurs with a wickedly insightful sense of humor. As a father and son, they have shared, and sometimes not shared, many of life’s milestones, and in Good Talk, Dad we are lucky they have decided to share those milestones with us.
The book is designed to feel like an ongoing conversation between a father and son as well as to serve as an oral history for generations of Geists yet unborn. The extremely well done audiobook is especially a treat as both Bill and Willie do the narration. Each section of the book is divided into a topic like sports, parenting or sex. Each Geist weighs in with his thoughts and their shared experience or recollections on the issue, and they take the opportunity to fill each other in on the parts the other might not have known about. The two points of view are clear and unique. Bill is a Midwestern, who served in Vietnam and spent much of his career in print journalism. Willie grew up in New Jersey and had easy access to New York City; he was accomplished in sports and practically fell into a series of jobs in broadcast journalism. These differences play extremely well off one another like discordant syncopation in a jazz number. The feel is like Bill Bryson meets Sh*t My Dad Says. It is funny, real and heartfelt.
Good Talk, Dad, above all else, feels genuine. In your mind’s eye, you can see these two men who clearly love and respect each other hunched over a computer rapidly emailing each other back and forth. They share laughter and feelings in a way that men in our society are not often comfortable doing in person. The resulting image is of a family where laughter is more common than anger, where people like and support each other, and where they are just plain comfortable around each other. It might just leave you a little bit jealous that you have not experienced life as a Geist.
Two memoirs hit the library shelves recently. One is tender, the other brash, but each author writes with much love. Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Virginia author Carol Wall is a poignant account of her friendship with Giles Owita, a Kenyan immigrant. Celebrity gossip blogger Elaine Lui writes about her Chinese mother in the blunt and brassy Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When a Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort Of).
Carol Wall looks at her Roanoke neighbors’ verdant gardens and lawns and knows her shabby yard needs help. Wall hires a friend’s gardener, Mr. Owita, and hands him a list of her gardening desires which Owita politely ignores. Wall and Owita cross racial and cultural boundaries as their relationship morphs from one of employer and gardener to student and teacher and eventually, dear friends. Wall is frank about her emotional struggles as a breast cancer survivor, and the support provided by Owita as both a gardening mentor and fellow traveler becomes increasingly important to her. Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a lovely and spiritual homage to Giles Owita, whose guidance and example allow Wall to see the beauty in life despite its fleeting nature.
Elaine Lui opens Listen to the Squawking Chicken with a description of her petite mother as a “China Woman Elvis” dressed in a rhinestone-studded, denim popped-collar pantsuit, massive visor and sunglasses. Ma’s Cantonese nickname is Tsiahng Gai, meaning Squawking Chicken, and when she speaks, her daughter compares her voice to a siren. Ma is loud, pushy and controlling, and embraces the use of guilt and threats as parenting tools. Lui ‘s recollections often portray her mother as harsh and judgmental, holding cruel court in her mahjong rooms, but a different picture emerges as Lui shares stories of the atrocious deprivation and brutality of Ma’s childhood. Ma’s methods may be unorthodox, but Lui recognizes her mothering is done out of love and the desire to protect her daughter from the horrors which shaped her. Lui talks about her book and posted an absolutely adorable picture of Ma on her website.
Ah, romance. It is a funny thing. What do you do when your life is nothing like the romance novels you read and edit? Patience Bloom (love the name) has written a charming memoir about her own life navigating the trials and errors of love, relationships and simply growing up in the publishing industry. Her new book Romance Is My Day Job will resonate with those who read romance novels and those who don’t.
A senior editor for Harlequin, Bloom’s road to love and happiness was a far cry from the heroines in the books she loves. She begins her story in the cushy Connecticut boarding school, where she, the daughter of two historians, attended as a scholarship student. Her cutesy chapter headings like "Tragic Heroes Are Romantic on the Page but Sad in Real Life,” and "When in Crisis, Go Party in Paris," give the reader the impression Bloom doesn’t take herself too seriously. Indeed, there are plenty of crushes, disappointments and messy situations along the way, some more serious than others, including an incident of violence. There are high school and college teaching jobs, a master’s degree and eventually a job reading historical romance manuscripts for the biggest romance publisher of “those cute books you can hide in your purse.” She wrings her hands over the fact that middle age is fast approaching and she’s still alone. “I should have this part of my life figured out," she says. Love is her business, after all.
A quick read with interesting tidbits about the publishing industry make this a fun escape for lovers of romance genre and others, too, whose interest may be piqued by the irony of the author’s experience. Bloom’s spunky voice, breathy Harlequin-esque descriptions and romantic novel archetypes are sure to bring a smile to anyone whose life doesn’t quite arc the way they intended.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unspeakable murders of three young civil rights volunteers, two books introduce to young readers what happened in Mississippi in June of 1964 – and the legacy of that Freedom Summer. Susan Goldman Rubin takes a timeline approach in her middle grade book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Each chapter is titled with a time, such as “June 21, 1964, Afternoon,” the last time any of the three victims were seen alive. Pulling no punches, Rubin outlines the devastating reality of the ingrained racist attitudes among many of the people of Neshoba County, Mississippi, at that time, while making plain that those feelings extended to the all-white law enforcement authorities which aided and abetted in the killings. Maps, interviews and reproductions of photos and newspaper clippings all bring to light the horror of the situation that played out over the course of that summer.
Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders covers similar territory but in a slightly different way, and for a teen audience. Chapters introduce us to the victims individually as each of the young men – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – receives his due. Interviews with their families, friends and other volunteers in Mississippi that summer help bring a better focus to who they were and why they felt so strongly for this cause. Additionally, Mitchell’s book fully examines the legacy of the summer and how their martyrdom ignited nationwide awareness, shock and fury. He includes the protracted legal battles and eventual reconciliation efforts that have helped move Mississippi and the state forward from this dark episode even to this day.
Caldecott Honor winner Mo Willems has brought back his beloved pigeon character in the funny new picture book The Pigeon Needs a Bath! The bus driver, this time clad in a shower cap and bathrobe, once again needs your help. Pigeon is absolutely, positively filthy. It’s been about a month, maybe even longer, since Pigeon had a bath. Goodness sakes, Pigeon is really starting to smell. He’s so stinky that the flies buzzing around Pigeon don’t want to be near him. Can you help convince Pigeon that he should take a bath?
Sixth in the Pigeon series, we last saw Pigeon two years ago co-starring in The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? Duckling makes an appearance in Pigeon’s new book in the form of a rubber ducky in the bath tub. Cartoon-like illustrations transition from muddy brown to bright, clean colors as Pigeon finally gets into the bath and starts to get clean. He’s having so much fun, he may never get out of the bath tub!
Whether it’s driving a bus, finding a hot dog, staying up late or wanting a puppy, Pigeon is sure to delight young children with his requests, which may also mimic some of the desires of the audience as well. Willems, both author and illustrator, has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals and Three Geisel Honors for his children’s books. And as your little ones progress from picture books to beginning readers, they are sure to also enjoy his Elephant & Piggie series.
Don’t know what to read? Our librarians have been devouring books at rapid rates to answer this very question. Want to know what’s the newest, steamiest romance? The next literary breakout novel? There’s a post for that.
Since the blog’s conception, readers have been discovering great titles by learning from experts who write daily about the books they love for a variety of tastes. Not only are readers using posts to find up-and-coming titles, they are stumbling upon past gems they may have missed. To celebrate this milestone, we wanted to know what the most popular titles were out of our hundreds of posts. The results? The top three were Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
Along the way to this 1,000th post, we’ve expanded the ways we can satisfy you hungry readers. Now you can add your insights and observations in comments, get the story behind the story with exclusive author interviews and chat up The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion with us during our Facebook Book Club Chat on June 11 at 7 p.m.
As always, keep checking in with Between the Covers to keep your finger on the pulse…