THE GLASS WIVES by Amy Sue Nathan

Women’s Fiction meets The Godfather.

The statement is odd and the farthest thing from what I expected to write, but the more I thought about Amy Sue Nathan’s debut novel the more the comparison made sense.

The novel opens during the shiva for Richard Glass. Richard’s death brings his ex-wife Evie and his second wife Nicole together. Death and family are the backbone of Mario Puzo’s novel and screenplays. A lot of books also share these elements, but it’s the way Nathan takes these simple ingredients and intertwines them around the characters that allow Puzo’s lessons to resonate in a fresh way.

I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Every novel needs a situation that forces the protagonist to act. The more her actions run outside of her comfort zone, the more conflicted the character and readers are riveted. Nathan wastes no time in placing Evie in such a predicament. Richard’s death leaves her children emotionally lost, which is enough stress for any mother. Couple that with the loss of child support and our protagonist is in a pickle. If Evie doesn’t find a way to make ends meet, she’ll be forced to move and her children’s world will be shattered a third time. Enter Nicole with baby Luca; she wants a family, Evie needs money. Nicole’s offer to pay room and board is an offer Evie can’t refuse. Living with the other woman leads us to another lesson from The Godfather. 

Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Nathan’s choice to thrust enemies into a shared living arrangement is brilliant. It’s true that Evie and her friend Laney often jump to stereotypical assumptions about Nicole, a natural defense when people are vulnerable and want to feel safe. But the close proximity of Evie and Nicole with baby Luca allows Evie to examine a different side of Nicole, a kinder side—the side her friend Beth insists on promoting.

And here comes part two of enemies and friends. Nicole’s presence throws a wrench into Evie’s longstanding friendship with Laney and Beth. Sides are drawn, loyalties are questioned and more vulnerability and inner conflict rise. Take what the character holds dear and rip it away. Nathan uses this technique so seamlessly, though we’re rooting for Evie, it’s impossible not to feel for the characters that have harmed her. This is richness. These are flesh and blood characters.

The biggest question throughout The Glass Wives is what makes a family, which brings us to our third Godfather lesson.

Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

One of the most lovable qualities about Evie is her devotion to her children. Sophie and Sam are her priority and the depth to which Nathan explores this relationship will soften every reader’s heart. But Evie isn’t the only character that values family. The major reason Nicole wants to move in is to secure a family for her son Luca. Laney and husband Herb delve into the nature of their marriage. And Beth and Alan, who appear perfectly solid, didn’t get there without a history of emotional turmoil. True family extends much further than blood and Nathan covers every aspect of family dynamics thanks to the physical arrangement she forced the Glass families to live in.

The intention of Evie and Nicole to hold their families together separately is what ultimately leads them to form a new kind of bond, one based on mutual respect and love for the people they cherish the most. How we treat our friends and family is a reflection of who we are.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Let me be clear. There are no guns or violence in The Glass Wives. But there is a lot of forgiveness. And even though the two lines above come after a murder in The Godfather, if you think about them outside of the film, it’s all about letting go, moving on and forgiveness. If Evie said no to Nicole, Nathan would’ve had a completely different novel. Life is about choices. We can fight against what life offers us, or we can flow with the ups and downs and see where the tide carries us.

You may come to The Glass Wives thinking it’s going to be a warmhearted beach read, and it is. And it’s so much more. Evie’s determination to move forward while protecting her family shows a strength of character equal to anything Michael Corleone threw around to protect his and she does it without violence. Now that is a character to admire. And Amy Sue Nathan is an author to follow.

Test your definition of family with The Glass Wives.

CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

My admiration for Kathryn Stockett’s The Help made me hesitant about Calling Me Home until I read an interview with Julie Kibler on Women’s Fiction Writers. The material Julie shared peaked my curiosity as a reader and writer. I ordered the book, but when it arrived I shelved it.

Four months later I tossed it into a book bag with a few other novels and brought it to my aunt’s apartment for our weekly Story Time. My aunt loves non-fiction and biographies and has little tolerance for genre fiction. When her eyes started to go and she was forced to read large print books she was incensed. “Why do publishers think old people are only interested in mysteries and romance? We may forget what we had for breakfast, but we haven’t misplaced our intelligence.”

Imagine my surprise when Calling Me Home, a novel categorized as Women’s Fiction, earned this response from my aunt after I read the book flap. “That’s the one. I’m already hooked.” Once I started reading I knew the reason for her infatuation. My aunt is a ringer for Isabelle: eighty-nine, loves crossword puzzles, a bit cantankerous and although she didn’t marry a black boy, she eloped at sixteen to get out from under a repressive household and community.

If I read Calling Me Home on my own, I would’ve zipped through the pages. Reading aloud to my aunt allowed me to appreciate Kibler’s strength for characterization. Whether they were in the past or present, I never had to think about how to portray either Isabelle or Dorrie. Their vocal qualities shifted inside me as easily as a breath moves in and out.

Another area of effortlessness is Kibler’s ability to show Isabelle’s naivetés about the world and love. Seventeen-year old Isabelle’s thought process or lack of thought and prominence of emotions is so accurate it’s funny, and sad, given the complex situation she has thrust herself into.

But in spite of the heartfelt rendition of Dorrie’s and Isabelle’s stories, I kept the women at a distance until page 194 when Isabelle’s dreams were torn from her. During that scene my past rushed forward and all of my reluctance to read and embrace the novel became clear; Calling Me Home was too close to home. Isabelle’s story reminded me of how sweet I was on Jerome Blakemore when I was sixteen and how my father’s bigotry crushed what might’ve been a lasting relationship, just like Isabelle’s brothers and mother came between her and Robert Prewitt.

Once my catharsis ran its course I was all in. Throughout the rest of our time with Dorrie and Isabelle, my aunt and I cried, laughed and yelled at the characters for the decisions they made and the things they didn’t say. Is there any higher praise for an author than for readers to talk to their characters as if they are real? Bravo, Julie.

Calling Me Home is a story to read, share and talk about with all generations; a personal story with universal ripples.

THE RIVER WITCH by Kimberly Brock

A ballerina, a ten-year old and an alligator walk into a bar…Interested? If not, you will be.

The River Witch captivated me like the ghost stories my friends shared around the campfire. The longer the tale the closer we sat together. We huddled out of fear and because we didn’t want to miss a word.

Opening pages ground readers in character, conflict and either lead us to care about the main character(s) or not. Kimberly Brock leaves no other option than to invest in her dueling narrators, Roslyn Byrne and Damascus Trezevant. Facts pummel the page the way a boxer’s fists attack a speed bag and fuel the reader’s curiosity, for Roslyn’s character defines mystery. And Damascus? She is spunky, determined and moves forward on blind faith—a quality we lose as adults when we need it most.

Few characters are as perfectly matched as Roslyn and Damascus. Two lost souls testing and daring each other to prove themselves worthy of life. These separate, yet interrelated character arcs are equally intriguing. But while the mystery and evolution of Roslyn is the main focus of the novel, I have to say Damascus is the character that drove me to turn page after page. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why?” Why do children’s voices grab our attention? Why do child characters often reach further into our hearts then adults?

These questions nudged me to reexamine my fascination with Tillie from Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson and Gemma from Meg Tilly’s Gemma. Here is my realization. Children draw us in because a part of every adult still needs to be healed, and the character trait the adult needs to strengthen in order to mend, lies within the child they are drawn to.

We are vehicles of change and Brock’s characters encourage us to step away from fear and into the hope that true change offers us.

“I never done nothing like this,” Ivy said, breathless. “Just took off without nobody.
Something about you, Roslyn, when I’m with you I think I can do all this stuff.” 

The River Witch is a complex and magical tale of broken souls struggling to stay above the tide of loss and the inevitable, yet unexpected force of love that heals them.

Experience the spellbinding power of The River Witch.


Reading The Promise of Stardust is like indulging in Parisian chocolates. The substance is so rich in flavor you must take time to savor every morsel. Stardust is one of the most romantic and beautiful books I’ve read in a long time. I cried through the last twenty pages and for half an hour after. Sibley’s writing touches the reader’s soul because she isn’t afraid to open the hearts of the characters. Love pours from each page and carries the reader away.

My experience with The Promise of Stardust reminds me of when I saw Beaches in theatres. I went with a dear friend. We laughed and cried so hard at the end we took our tearful selves out of the theatre without a word and cried some more in the restroom. About halfway home my friend broke our silence with, “So, what do you think?” Without hesitation I said, “Some movies shouldn’t be analyzed just enjoyed.”

I believe this is true for Priscille Sibley’s debut. What Matt and Elle Beaulieu go through is so powerful and personal the reader’s response is personal too. So personal it is difficult to express the story’s poignancy. As a reader I am without words.

As a writer I am in awe of the seamless way Sibley uses the elements of craft. Placing a pregnant woman, who was a former astronaut, in a vegetative state raises the stakes right from the start. Then once Matt decides to save their child by keeping Elle on life support, Sibley pits not only the media and activists, but his entire family against him. The obstacles that follow increase the tension and play counterpoint to Matt and Elle’s love story that unfolds throughout the novel. But the Beaulieu’s love story is not void of rough edges, and is one of many reasons readers will connect with Sibley’s novel. Matt and Elle are flawed, make mistakes and often fail at communication, just like us.

The Promise of Stardust is so plausible and the characters are so real the reader can’t avoid speculating how they would react if they were placed in the same circumstances. Priscille Sibley has offered up a novel that will tug at your heart and engage your mind long after Matt and Elle’s journey ends.

Reach for love. Reach for The Promise of Stardust.

THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown’s Weird Sisters sparked my curiosity from the moment I saw the cover. Above the title is the following quote, See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much. The honesty shot an arrow into my gut. Then I discovered the novel was written in first person plural. The clincher was the fact that the sisters were named after Shakespearean characters. I know, my actress slip is showing.

The Weird Sisters was my first experience with a first person plural narrative and I fell in love. As an acting coach, I always talk about how characters live in relationship. How a character relates to others is colored by how they feel about themselves. Brown’s novel is a perfect example of how individual choices impact relationships and vice versa.

This interconnection between characters underscores how no character is minor. All characters must reveal something new about a POV character, otherwise they have no dramatic purpose. A wonderful read for actors, writers and anyone who loves stories about family dynamics.

Think your family is weird? Read The Weird Sisters and compare.

GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

I’ve experienced the love and angst of Scarlett O’Hara four times on the page—can’t count the times I’ve seen the film. Scarlett’s tumultuous love life is one of the greatest examples of how to keep lovers apart and prevent them from saying what they need to say in order to be together.

But what fascinates me more is the complexity of Scarlett’s relationship with Melanie. She hates her mealy mouthed sister-in-law. Her jealousy is palpable, and yet, Scarlett can never bring herself to do wrong by her—even when it places her own life in danger. This is the kind of inner struggle that enriches a character’s journey and keeps readers turning pages.

Get swept away with Gone with the Wind.

FALLING UNDER by Danielle Younge-Ullman—2011

When it comes to movies it doesn’t take much for my faucet to run. I need a box of tissues for the end of Space Jam. Does that embarrass me? No way. There is nothing quite as wonderful as my heart in overdrive and I don’t care who notices. Such was the case with Younge-Ullman’s debut novel Falling Under.

When I coach actors, my ultimate goal is to help them figure out how to allow their characters to feel raw enough to experience the point of pain, which lead them into their present situation. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Younge-Ullman has figured out how to do the same thing on the page.

Falling Under exposes Mara Foster’s pain, then rips through it with a sickle. The writing is raw and honest in a way I have never seen before. No sugar-coating. FU is a story you can gnaw on while your heart rides through hell and back. A page-turner deluxe. A must read for writers and actors who want to discover what they’re leaving out of their own work and anyone else who loves a good cry.

Click to Fall Under the spell of Danielle Younge-Ullman.


I became acquainted with Jael McHenry through Writer Unboxed and Backspace. She looks and sounds a bit like Jodie Foster. I don’t know about her acting skills, but her writing is superb.

The Kitchen Daughter is McHenry’s debut novel—an intriguing tale of Ginny, a woman with Asperger’s syndrome, who discovers she has the power to call forth the ghost of any dead person whose dish she prepares. Intriguing, right?

But what I love more than the mystery that unfolds about Ginny is the way McHenry allows us to see the world through Ginny’s touchstone, food. This unique twist used to communicate the protagonist’s point of view deepens the reader’s emotional investment.

Also, the ability to reveal Ginny’s “personality” through behavior, without ever lecturing us on Asperger’s syndrome, shows us exactly how powerful McHenry is as a storyteller. The Kitchen Daughter is a poignant, delightful tale of healing and hope you won’t want to miss. I’ve consumed this entertaining recipe twice.

Hungry? Scoop up The Kitchen Daughter .


Therese Walsh is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed and the mastermind behind the online Women’s Fiction chapter of Romance Writers of America.

The Last Will of Moira Leahy is Walsh’s debut novel. This unique tale had such a strong impact on me, I wrote my first fan letter. The story reveals an unknown world, which coaxed me into its midst and held me captive. The writing is lean and meaty (and I’m vegan)—impressive.

It’s not a typical page-turner. Yet, I was mesmerized. But wait, there’s more. As a writer TLWML touched my inner child. Each page fueled the artist in me who knows without question that I too am a writer, that my stories matter, must be told and my journey will continue. This was the magnitude of the emotional life of Walsh’s characters on the page. If books are your means to escape the every day angst of your life, Maeve Leahy’s investigation into the mystical world of an ancient dagger may be the best trip you’ve ever taken.

Find out how The Last Will of Moira Leahy will inspire you.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I’m excited to say, I came across the Help long before it became the rage. Makes me feel as if I discovered something special.

In the midst of struggling to find my own voice as a writer, I was immediately taken with this southern novel because the voices of the three point of view characters drive the story. As a reader I empathized with each character’s inner and external conflicts, and found myself fretting throughout the day over how the lives of these people would resolve. Would they find peace and happiness, or was there something waiting for them even bigger than their wildest imaginations could provide. This kind of reader angst stems only from great storytelling. the Help is a story that had to be told and must be read.

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