THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER by Jael McHenry

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 .


THE SNOW GOOSE by Paul Gallico

A heart wrenching tale. If a good cry is needed this story will open the gates. It’s a short story with the power of a novel. How is this possible?

The Snow Goose Paul Gallico is a the master of selection. He zeroes in on his characters as if he’s looking through a telescope and widens the lense just enough for us to fall under the spell of his vivid prose:

She was no more than twelve, slender, dirty, nervous and timid as a bird, but beneath the grime as eerily beautiful as a marsh faery.

Then he pulls back and moves on.

This peculiar love story unfolds for the reader on a need to know basis. He whets our appetite with fragments of the tale, and it is our hunger and passion for the hunchback Philip Rhayeder and twelve-year-old Fritha that weaves the rest of the story through our imagination and within our hearts.

The Snow Goose is storytelling in its purest form.

I’m a hopeless romantic and a sucker for tales of unrequited love, but my fondness for this tale transcends romance. I was introduced to this classic by my sixth grade English teacher. She periodically rewarded our efforts to master the curriculum by taking class time to read to us. From the moment she delivered these opening lines:

The Great Marsh lies on the Essex coast between the village of Chelmbury and the ancient Saxon oyster-fishing hamlet of Wickaeldroth. It is one of the last of the wild places of England…

My heart told me Gallico had written this story for me, and I was Fritha.

Three more years would pass before I would uncover the nerve to write. But The Snow Goose freed the artist within my soul and I knew my life would be a creative one. This is the power of literature. I have no idea how many times I have read Gallico’s story, or how often I have gifted it to others. But is has always been an anchor of encouragement for me.

Although the book resides on my writing desk, I hadn’t read it in years. Then on September 11th, I read a post by Keith Cronin, author of Me Again, and was transported to the beginning of my journey as a writer. I immediately reread this classic and learned that I loved Gallico’s tale more than before. Thanks, Keith.

Let The Snow Goose soar into your heart.


OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham

A handful of small books exist whose characters capture our imaginations so fully, and the prose is delivered with such precise detail and movement, we can’t stop ourselves from rereading them again, and again. Of Human Bondage is not one of them. But you must devour it at least once.

I have no doubt about the love affair that will form between you and Somerset Maugham, however, his first 100 pages may lead you to believe he isn’t interested in capturing your heart. For many readers investing in his opening will be like watching a black and white film when all prior movie experiences have been color. The style is foreign. But with a bit of patience you’ll slip into his rhythm and his prose will feel like sable.

Do we love our protagonist Philip Carey? Probably not. Throughout the novel the reader may be overcome with an uncontrollable urge to shake him and say, “Dump her and get a life!” Today, our protagonist would probably be on a slew of antidepressants and addicted to therapy. But in the early 1900’s these options weren’t available. So, although we may not love him, we have to admire his stamina as he deals with the emotional pain of his life while his physical security is threatened.

We also cannot help empathizing with his journey—a coming of age story to rival Holden Caulfield. Philip possesses none of Holden’s sense of humor and he lives in a time period detached from our sensibilities, but his search for happiness, love and a desire to understand the meaning of life when life is not a plate of caviar is something we all wrestle with at one point or another.

Philip’s struggle to create a life worth living is the very reason we stay glued to the page. Who hasn’t thought about greener grass in a different job or city? Who doesn’t wonder if their finances will hold out? And show me a heart that hasn’t yearned for an impossible mate?

Of Human Bondage is an expedition into the lives of people who thrive and wither in the company of others, but wouldn’t dare live in isolation. Jump into the fray and explore the delicacies of a time long gone and all too close.

Join Philip Carey’s journey of self-discovery through Of Human Bondage.


THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY by Therese Walsh

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.

NIGHT SWIM by Jessica Keener

Genre is hot. Page-turning thrillers, mysteries and romances keep our pulse racing and underscore our hectic lives. These whirlwind escapes are enjoyable, but sometimes we need to slip away softly.

Jessica Keener’s Night Swim transports us into 16-year-old Sarah Kunitz’s life with the finesse of a classical composer. Sarah’s world wraps around us like the opening of The Moonlight Sonata. The family dynamic is so true, we see a bit of ourselves in every character. This is the mark of a seasoned writer. But amidst the familiar comfort an undercurrent of unrest gnaws and we commit to Sarah’s journey because we are anchored in truth.

Then Sarah’s world cracks open like the second half of Beethoven’s masterpiece, and we hang tight while she navigates through the debris of her disintegrating family to find salvation. Night Swim is filled with heartache, yet flows with love and poetic depth.

Plunge into Night Swim.


SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris

I love to read the book prior to seeing the movie it’s based on. I’m sorry to say this did not happen with Silence of the Lambs. The movie is powerful and I’ve probably enjoyed it at least a dozen times. The Oscar winning performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are so rich I could never bring myself to crack the spine to discover what they may have missed.

But curiosity won and I finally broke the self-imposed ban and removed the book from my To Be Read pile. Two weeks later I wished I’d never seen the movie. Not because the film was a poor adaptation—Harris’s world was recreated with great accuracy—but because I knew too much. Knowing how the events would play out removed a layer of suspense that was beautifully executed by Harris.

Fortunately, in the end my prior knowledge wasn’t a factor in my overall enjoyment of the novel because Silence is a must read for writers and actors. And the why has everything to do with how well Hannibal Lecter is portrayed.

Sure, we know Lecter is called Hannibal the Cannibal and he’s committed nine murders that the FBI know about, but it isn’t until he escapes 2/3 of the way through the book that we actually see who he is and what he’s capable of. By then we already have our emotional hooks into him. Although we know he belongs in maximum security, we secretly root for him to get the view he desires because we understand him as a human being, not a monster. And the fact that he cares about Starling, our hero, makes it hard to push him out of our hearts—even after we witness his savage side.

Harris also ensures our connection with Lecter by not revealing all. We don’t know how his killing nature developed or why he can’t or doesn’t care to stop. Yet, his admiration for Starling makes us hope—maybe even believe—he possesses the ability to be reformed even if the odds are against him.

We are drawn to Lecter because he is a human mystery.

Discovering the quirks and ticks of a character is essential if we want to build believable characters but, like backstory sometimes we need to let go of what we have worked so hard to uncover. By allowing the wealth of information to vibrate beneath the surface of the words we can dazzle readers and keep our writing fresh.

Click to explore the mystery of Hannibal Lecter.


ME AGAIN by Keith Cronin

Do-overs are not a part of life, but I imagine we all wonder from time to time what a do-over would mean for our lives. Cronin’s characters in Me Again have a chance to find out. Two young stroke victims meet in a hospital. His memory is gone. Her personality has changed. They don’t fit in. And they’ll never be the same. But now they’ve got to decide what matters most. Who they were. Or who they want to become (video trailer).

From the moment I crossed paths with Keith on Backspace, I knew he was a writer I would learn from again and again. His posts for Writer Unboxed are informative and inspirational. His feedback on the Backspace forum is a must read for any writer who hopes to cross the finish line to publication. Keith has helped me understand loglines, queries and now with Me Again, he has shown me how to improve me WIP.

He packs a punch on the page. His prose is lean. No excess backstory. Each chapter drops the reader into the midst of action. He avoids long segues and he trusts his readers. As a result, his readers have no problem using their imaginations to connect the dots between scenes because he goes for the jugular in each chapter.

I admit, I was baffled by the cover art, but the payoff was grand. Me Again encompasses the three H’s of exemplary fiction: humor, heart and honesty. A must read no matter what genre you normally hang your reading glasses on.

Read Me Again now.


TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s novel is a drowsy read compared to the high stakes action found in today’s genre fiction. Yet, I’d pit her characters against the wickedest villain and the most courageous heroine without hesitation.

Although I’ve never fired a gun, I have no doubt about my own ability to kill an attacker that threatened either myself, or someone I loved. This is bravery. But it is brought on by external forces, which automatically triggers our fight or flight reflexes. I don’t wish to take anything away from such heroes, but it is a different kind of brave than the bravery found in To The Lighthouse.

The characters that populate Woolf’s novel discover their courage moment to moment as they face their darkest fears. From their incompetence in offering sympathy to their inability to accept beauty, they blatantly acknowledge their weaknesses. The inner strength required for such honesty is doubled by their willingness to endure the most uncomfortable situation, and by doing so, discover a better part of themselves.

To The Lighthouse is filled with extraordinary human beings who struggle with personal turmoil and triumph through simple perseverance. In my mind braver souls can not be found. If you are a writer and wish to master the complexity of simplicity, read Virginia Woolf. Awesome.

Click to study the mastery of Virginia Woolf.


EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King

Although I’ve been a book addict my entire life, I don’t ever remember reading fiction written specifically for young adults (12-18 years old). By the time I was ten, I’d entered the worlds of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the Bronte sisters. I couldn’t get enough of tortured souls. But I may not have needed to dig into the past if A.S. King was writing when I was a teen. Everybody Sees the Ants has all anyone could ever want in the tortured soul category, but King also adds tons of humor and hope. Lucky Linderman is an unforgettable protagonist, who makes you want to not only examine how you behaved as a teen, but re-evaluate how you’re coping as an adult. If this is what YA fiction is about, I want more.

Discover Lucky Linderman’s world of Ants with one click.


HEARTSICK & SWEETHEART by Chelsea Cain

Other than Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series, I detour around books with recurring characters. There are simply too many books and too little time to get tied down with one character. This was my story until I was introduced to Chelsea Cain’s serial killer Gretchen Lowell.

If you’re a Hannibal fan brace yourself. Gretchen has taken Lecter’s game to a new level. She’s so deliciously evil I wish I’d thought her up. But her evil ways are only a small part of why I’m hooked. The brilliance of the series is how Cain has interconnected the killer with the protagonist. The love/hate rollercoaster between our hero, Archie and Gretchen is twisted and complex. In addition to destroying his marriage and the bond with his children, their relationship is literally ripping him apart emotionally and physically. But Archie refuses to let go and Gretchen continues to risk her freedom to be near him.

The why behind each character’s actions is not yet clear and after book two, Sweetheart, the reader still knows nothing of Gretchen’s history. This is another strength for Cain—no info dumps. She doles out information like a peanut M & M junkie, who only eats one M & M every twenty minutes. The tension between the protagonist and the killer coupled with the increasing unknown makes this series a must read.

Become Heartsick with one click.


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