Top beach reads of 2013, and other things I learned in a downpour

Last Friday, during a monsoon of apocalyptic proportions, I inched down the flooded New Jersey Turnpike to Princeton for a book event.

Billing it Beach Reads Night, the Princeton Public Library had asked nine women authors to discuss their recent publications and what we ourselves liked to thumb through while sitting in the sand.

Cupcake display at Princeton Public Library Beach Reads Night

If you bake it, they will come.

Now, I worship any library big or small, state-of-the-art or state-of-disrepair. But the PPL is in a class of its own. I mean, check out this presentation. In honor of the beach theme, library program director Janie Hermann arranged for Sweetly Spirited Cupcakes to supply fancy baked goods, and Cake It Up Cake Stands to design a wee little beach made of brown sugar. Will you look at that? That’s all edible.

As the deluge built outside, I understood the genius of this confectionery display: if you provide free dessert, people will show up. Guaranteed. The unholy weather forced two of the authors to bail. But readers braved hell and brimstone for a taste of that Tequila Lime cupcake. Even a reporter managed to show, and I speak from long experience that extreme weather is the assignment-shirking excuse. Here’s proof she was there for the treats. (To be fair: she’s a food reporter, so the presence of authors was merely incidental.)

Anyway, I was thrilled to be included, thanks to moderator Amy Bromberg, the teeny tiny and fabulous founder of ChickLitCentral. For me it was the opposite of Groucho Marx’s gripe about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him; me, I was somewhat mortified to find myself among writers of this caliber. The only thing I brought to the party were a gaggle of damp but determined friends (thanks, guys!).

Authors at Princeton Public Library Beach Reads Night

From left, Priscille Sibley (“The Promise of Stardust”); Beatriz Williams (“A Hundred Summers”); me, momentarily not slouching; cupcakes; Pamela Redmond Satran (“The Possibility of You”); Christina Baker Kline (“Orphan Train”); Sally Koslow (“The Widow Waltz”); Amy Bromberg (ChicklitCentral)

Here are some things I learned that night:

• “If they cry, they buy.” That’s what Priscille Sibley said about her debut novel “The Promise of Stardust.” She in turn was quoting her agent, who cried umpteen times while reading Priscille’s manuscript. Sure enough, the publishers cried too, then bought.

• Ideas turn up in the strangest places. Christina Baker Kline discovered her then 10-year-old son flipping through a dusty tome at his grandparents’. When she inquired, she found the book held an account of the “orphan train”—a practice around the turn of the century of sending American children off for labor to the midwest. Idea!

• Some novelists lead double lives. Priscille Sibley is a nurse who writes when she’s off her shift. Pamela Redmond Satran is behind Nameberry, the hugely successful baby-name website. And Beatriz Williams writes popular romance novels under a pseudonym. She and her alter ego snipe at each other on Twitter. Who knew?

• Man, I have the worst posture. The. Worst.

In case you’re in the market for summer reading, below are brief synopses of each author’s book taken from the Princeton Public Library’s Pinterest board on the event. Click each title for the Amazon page. Here’s a link to some more pictures of cupcakes.

The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow tells the story of a widow who learns the idyllic life she shared with her recently deceased husband – including a plush Manhattan apartment, a Hampton’s beach house, a driver, fine art and club memberships – was built on lies. Realizing that she and her daughters have been left with nothing, the widow struggles to protect her husband’s legacy and cope with her new reality.

The Possibility of You by Pamela Redmond Satran tells the story of three women at three key moments of the past century. Three stories of independence and motherhood, love and loss, power and family that intertwine in unexpected ways and culminate in an explosive ending that shows how one woman’s choices can affect her world forever.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline weaves together the stories of two women, one a widow from Maine who as a child was among the orphans transported from East Coast cities to Midwestern farmlands. The other is a teen girl who grew up in foster care and is assigned to help the widow clean out her attic for community service. Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, “Orphan Train” is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams will be released May 30 and tells the story of New York socialite Lily Dane and her heartbreak after her fiancé leaves her and marries her best friend. Kirkus Book Reviews calls “A Hundred Summers” “a candidate for this year’s best beach read – the period story of a derailed love affair seen through a sequence of summers at Seaview, R.I.”

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley chronicles a husband’s dilemma when he discovers his wife, brain dead after an accident and known to not ever want to be kept on life support, is pregnant. “Sibley does a wonderful job of exploring a complex and controversial moral issue, skillfully giving both sides of the story,” said a review in the American Library Association’s Booklist publication. “This is a gripping, thoughtful, heart-wrenching, and well-written debut …”

 

Who’s reading “Pastors’ Wives”?

I ask myself this.

When you’re an author with a new book out, you think about who’s reading it. I mean, maybe not if you’re Stephen King. Or Anna Quindlen. Or someone else who’s at this very moment headlining a panel at BookExpo America jam-packed with her quazillion fans. I’m not bitter.

Me, I sit at home in New Jersey and wonder who’s reading my book. I’m particularly curious in the case of this baby. Because it’s a quirky little thing. It’s women’s commercial fiction set in an evangelical megachurch. Yet it’s not a quote-unquote Christian book (more about that here). And I’m a former journalist whose line of faith is best described as—to borrow my friend Desa’s term—devoutly tolerant.

I wrote about women married to men married to God because I found their predicament complicated, poignant and fascinating. At the time in my life when I wrote “Pastors’ Wives” and my TV pilot “The Ordained,” I struggled mightily with religion. I found fiction a way to write about it without bludgeoning readers and viewers over the head with theology dogma.

So who are the readers of “Pastors’ Wives”? Are they Christian or pagan? Churched or mosqued? I asked a few friends and readers to let me introduce you to them (thank you, dears!).

This small and highly unscientific survey proves “Pastors’ Wives” may be consumed safely by parties of any faith. Side effects include a very slightly heavier beach bag.

Shari

Shari, Louisiana
I am: mom of three, nurse, sports fanatic
Religious views: Baptist

Desa Philadelphia

Desa, California
I am: working mom, lover of all things literary
Religious views: devoutly tolerant

Amy Sullivan

Amy, Washington, D.C.
I am: Journalist, mama, and semi-professional beach reader
Religious views: Baptist

Helen Mitternight

Helen, Virginia
I am: a PR leader, mom to one human and two canines, writer, aspiring world leader
Religious views: Lazy Wiccan

Rebekah Sanderlin

Rebekah, Florida
I am: Mother of three, amateur (and unwilling) wrangler of turtles, frogs and lizards
Religious views: Christian (Protestant, non-denominational)

Bee Ridgway

Bee, Pennsylvania
I am: English prof, novelist, good eater
Religious views: Methodist as a child, minister’s daughter for life

Emi Dantsuka

Emi, California
I am: Mom of one, wife of a football fanatic, subcontract manager
Religious views: Non-denominational Christian

Reader of "Pastors' Wives"

Carla, Indiana
I am: Business owner, executive leadership coach, mom of triplets
Religious views: Catholic until six months ago, now attending evangelical church with my formerly Jewish husband