When describing your identity, does the word “reader” find a place on that list? Ours, too. Which is why we’re so fascinated by the reading habits, histories, and preferences of other readers. Long Story Short offers a glimpse into authors’ lives as readers — from the people who helped them fall in love with reading to their all-time favorite books. Read on for this week’s installment of Long Story Short with bestselling author Michele Campbell.
1. The person who helped me fall in love with reading was: my mom, who got me my first library card, and also worked long hours helping support our family. I would read in the afternoons to keep me company until she came home.
3. If I could write like one other author, it’d be Daphne Du Maurierbecause: she finds the fear and dread in everyday situations, an indispensable skill for an author of psychological suspense.
4. One book I think deserves more attention is The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda (not that it hasn’t gotten attention) because: Jane is the most deliciously twisted character I have come across in years.
5. The friend I always turn to for reading recommendations is my hairstylist, Katie Stamperd because: I sit in her chair, and we talk about everything under the sun, but one of our favorite topics is books. She loves to read and always has the best recommendations.
6. If I’m not enjoying a book, I put it down — too many books, too little time.
7. One book that absolutely shocked me was: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandelbecause: I didn’t think it was possible to write a book about the apocalypse so filled with beauty and hope.
8. My favorite place to read is: on an airplane, because the sense of journey I get from a great book is the same as the feeling of traveling to a new and exciting destination.
9. If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it’d beLittle Women by Louisa May Alcottbecause: I always wanted to be a March sister, and rereading it feels like coming home.
10. The book I’m currently reading is:The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. It’s a real stunner — resonant, gripping, addictive, the sort of book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Splashing in the creek, chasing fireflies at dusk, and living life at the end of a dirt road. Nope, that wasn’t my childhood. I wasn’t raised a homesteader. In fact, I didn’t even grow up out in the country. Like many folks, I have homesteaders and farmers on branches of both sides of my family tree, but my childhood was spent in a regular little neighborhood on a small lot in rural northern Idaho — no acreage, no chickens, and no big red barns.
My upbringing may have been suburban, but I had a fascination with all things country right from the start. While all my friends were playing dress-up, I pushed a wheelbarrow around our tiny yard and pretended I was living on a farm and mucking stalls. (Yes, really.) The other girls giggled about their latest crush while I doodled sketches of my future barns and corrals. In high school, the thought of Saturdays spent roaming the mall bored me to tears. I much preferred using my weekends to help local ranching friends build fences and clean pens. I never really fit in with the crowd, but I never really wanted to either.
I’ve been obsessed with horses since I was two years old, so after graduating from high school, it only made sense to pursue a career in the equine industry. Instead of staying close to home, I packed up my F-150 truck and drove to Wyoming to begin a grand adventure 1,100 miles away from everything and everyone I had ever known. I was scared to death, but promptly fell in love with the ruggedness and wide-open spaces of the Cowboy State and swore to never leave. A few years into that adventure, I met my future husband, Christian. It was a totally romantic first encounter — I was shoveling liquid cow manure in the college arena the first time he laid eyes on me. Now that I think about it, it had to be some sort of a foreshadowing of our future lifestyle. He wasn’t raised on a farm or ranch either, but our early dates were filled with talk of our shared dreams of owning land and cattle someday. He proposed on horseback and we were married soon after.
The concept of homesteading couldn’t have been further from our minds as newlyweds, but we had a couple of horses and knew for certain we didn’t want to live in town. We saved up a down payment and began to shop for our first home. Instead of playing it safe and, like rational people, buying one of those cute little starter homes three minutes away from the grocery store, we fell head over heels for a neglected property 40 miles from town. The tiny hundred-year-old home boasted 900 square feet of shoebox-sized rooms with an awkward layout. The accompanying cinder-block barn and shop (circa 1940) were filled waist-deep with junk and rusty car parts. The fence posts were rotted, leaning, and laced with ancient strands of broken barbed wire. And my personal favorite — there was a dead washing machine in the front yard full of moldy clothes. The place radiated charm.
Our friends thought we had completely lost our minds, and when I look back at those early photos, I suppose I can see their point. But tumbledown fences and trashy buildings aside, the sad little property gave two city kids with a small budget a chance to become the proud owners of 67 acres of prairie land. And it was glorious.
Blinded by potential, we feverishly dove into setting new fence posts, reconstructing crumbling outbuildings, and hauling away over 20 tons of trash (and that lovely washing machine). Since then, the entire place has undergone a complete transformation, and it looks nothing like it did back then. Thankfully, Christian and I are both home-improvement junkies, so we’ve enjoyed (almost) every second of building, fencing, digging, painting, remodeling, and planting.
I wish I could say there was a profound or poetic moment that sparked our first official homestead endeavor, but the truth is, the catalyst was horse manure. There was a growing pile in the back pasture, and it would be years before our budget could handle the purchase of a tractor. And so the pile grew larger by the day and drove me crazy every time I looked at it. I was desperate for a solution, so when a library book introduced me to the idea of turning animal manure into rich plant food, I was wildly inspired.
Christian built two compost bins out of salvaged scrap lumber on the edge of the yard. I remember surveying the completed bins and feeling an awakening I’d never quite experienced before. Our new little property felt so ripe with possibility, I was beside myself. I schemed about how our land could become profitable (or at least earn its keep), and I was hit with a powerful desire to start growing food. I checked out every library book I could find about vegetables, dairy goats, and chickens, and found myself lying in bed at night, unable to sleep as my heart pounded with excitement at the potential of what we could create here on our little piece of land.
Photo: Liz Osban Photography
We had created something from almost nothing, we were opting out of cultural norms, we were preparing to grow food, and we were one step closer to sustainable self-sufficiency. It was intoxicating. I became addicted right then and there and immediately began to plan the next project. Shortly thereafter, I impulse-bought a flock of Rhode Island Red chickens, followed by a pair of pregnant dairy goats (when I was nine months pregnant myself). There was no turning back.
After several naysayers told me gardening in our corner of Wyoming wasn’t worth bothering with, I set my sights on mastering vegetables. Despite more than a few mistakes and plenty of weeds, I eventually harvested pumpkins, potatoes, onions, corn, carrots, and beans by the basketful. The milk cow came a little while later, and so did the hogs, cheese making, and chickens. We don’t grow every single bit of our food ourselves and likely never will, but our efforts have paid off handsomely and we enjoy many, many meals made with ingredients grown right here on our prairie homestead.
As our homesteading adventure progressed and we added children into the mix, our life felt so unusual and exciting, I wanted to talk about it. A lot. The problem? I didn’t have any homesteading friends at that point, and my family members were getting tired of goat talk. So like a true child of the Internet age, I took my passions to the World Wide Web, and in 2010, I began rambling away on my blog, The Prairie Homestead (theprairiehomestead.com). Little did I know that this little blog would eventually become a thriving community of online homesteaders with many millions of visitors each year. There were other people out there who loved composting. And chickens. And baking bread. What a thrill! My favorite emails are the ones where people tell me how reading the blog inspired them to take action and dive into their own homesteading adventure. Connecting with so many people all over the globe with a shared love for this modern twist on an old-fashioned lifestyle has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
For us, homesteading has been the gateway to building a life we love. Christian and I have never wanted to live our lives just going through the motions — homesteading is how we have chosen to live with intention and purpose. It helps us stay grounded and in sync with the cycles of nature. To put it simply, homesteading makes us feel more alive.
Photo: Lindsay Linton Buk/Linton Productions
But that was only the beginning. Once I broke out of the box in one area of life, I couldn’t help but keep busting down my other self-imposed walls too. This notion of purposefully creating what we wanted rather than allowing ourselves to be pulled along by the cultural current of passivity began to creep into all other areas of our lives.
What began as a simple passion for rural living and good food has resulted in opting out of the nine-to-five lifestyle, becoming entrepreneurs, schooling our children at home, and exploring natural medicines, among many other things. Homesteading invited Christian and me to design the life we had dreamed of and has taken us further than we ever could have imagined. Sometimes I look at where our life is now and I have to pinch myself. The little girl who pushed her wheelbarrow to the country finally has stalls to muck, plus a whole lot more. And it all started with one humble compost pile.
The Prairie Homestead Cookbook Recipe: Minted Strawberry Tart
Mint and strawberries usually arrive in the garden around the same time, so it only makes sense to eat them together. Herbaceous mint leaves elegantly complement the bright sweetness of strawberries and they both shine when wrapped in a flaky pastry crust. While not overly sweet, this light, rustic tart is the perfect early summer dessert and tastes even better if eaten while sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea nearby.
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice-cold water
2½ cups sliced strawberries
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
¼ cup sugar, preferably organic whole cane sugar
1 tablespoon organic cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (page 261)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten, for wash
Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, then cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two knives (you can also use a food processor) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 4 tablespoons of the water and mix, adding the remaining water if necessary, until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Press it into a disc, taking care not to overwork the dough. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Make the filling: In another large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients except the butter and allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes. Drain off any liquid that accumulates in the bottom of the bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Generously flour the countertop, remove the disc from the plastic wrap, and roll it into a 12-inch circle on a piece of parchment. Spread the strawberry filling in the center of the circle, leaving 2 inches of dough uncovered around the outer edge. Dot the top of the filling with the butter to give it a glossy shine when it comes out of the oven.
When describing your identity, does the word “reader” find a place on that list? Ours, too. Which is why we’re so fascinated by the reading habits, histories, and preferences of other readers. Long Story Short offers a glimpse into authors’ lives as readers — from the people who helped them fall in love with reading to their all-time favorite books. Read on for this week’s installment of Long Story Short with bestselling author Jennifer Egan.
1. The person who helped me fall in love with reading was: my mother, who taught me to read at age three and read aloud to me until I was almost a teen!
2. One book I love to give as a giftis: Skull a Day by Noah Scalin. He’s a visual artist and designer who found 365 ways to create skulls from every material imaginable: cocoa powder, Q-tips, computer keys, human hands…
3. If I could write like one other author, it’d be Karen Russellbecause: her vivid, strange, sensory prose makes everything it touches zing to life.
4. One book I think deserves more attention is James Hannaham’s God Says Nobecause: it’s a moving, exquisitely written book about down-low culture among gay, African American men in the Christian Deep South.
5. The friend I always turn to for reading recommendations is again, my mom because: if she loves something, I will likely love it too… She got me hooked on Trollope, which I didn’t think was possible. There are differences in our taste, though: I like weirdness and darkness better than she does.
6. If I’m not enjoying a book, I put it down — too many books, too little time.
7. One book that absolutely shocked me was: Susan Choi’s Trust Exercisebecause: she commits so radically to the idea of the story behind the story behind the story… and yet she holds the reader’s attention to the last word.
8. My favorite place to read is: anywhere that I can recline in natural light — outdoors if possible. Or in bed (but I do tend to fall asleep)!
9. If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it’d beEdith Wharton’s House of Mirthbecause: every time I read it, I find glints of humor, pathos, satire, and telling detail that I missed the last time.
10. The book I’m currently reading is: A first novel by Alexander Tilney called The Expectations, coming out next week… It takes place at a Northeastern boarding school, and the writing is rich, subtle, and dynamic.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that books have the power to make us cry. Authors infuse emotion into their writing in ways that so poignantly grasp the grief behind human suffering and the heartache in all facets of life. Sure, we love escaping into books and keeping the real world at bay, but there are always sad quotes in books that often give voice to our own experiences. We’ve put together a list of heartbreaking and sad quotes from books that will undoubtedly leave readers affected. BRB, crying.
1. “Claire,” he said quietly. “Tomorrow I will die. This child … is all that will be left of me—ever. I ask ye, Claire—I beg you—see it safe.” I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem.” ― Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber
2. “I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.”— John Green, Looking for Alaska
3. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”—J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
4. “The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.”
—Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
5. “If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?”
—Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
6. “The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself. As if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.”
— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
7. “My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”
― Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere
8. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ―Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
9. “I’m lonely. And I’m lonely in some horribly deep way and for a flash of an instant, I can see just how lonely, and how deep this feeling runs. And it scares the shit out of me to be this lonely because it seems catastrophic.”
― Augusten Burroughs, Dry
10. “Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agised as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
11. “I hid my deepest feelings so well I forgot where I placed them.”
― Amy Tan, Saving Fish from Drowning
12. “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
— Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
13. “And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.”
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
14. “You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
15. “People think being alone makes you lonely, but I don’t think that’s true. Being surrounded by the wrong people is the loneliest thing in the world.”
― Kim Culbertson, The Liberation of Max McTrue
16. “The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit, so when they broke it’s back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one.”
—Toni Morrison, Beloved
Pick up these titles below!
Debbie Macomber is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of today’s most popular writers with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. In her novels, Macomber brings to life compelling relationships that embrace family and enduring friendships, uplifting her readers with stories of connection and hope.
Summer is one of my favorite times of the year, and it usually involves a healthy amount of relaxation and reading. This year I have a summer release titled Window on the Bay, and to celebrate I put together a list of books I have read and recommend, paired with what’s in my to-be-read stack. Read on for Debbie’s book recommendations!
I read Sarah’s book earlier for a quote and was enthralled with the story of this Paris apartment, which parallels two lives of two women living in different eras. Celine is a young widow in war-torn Nazi held Paris, and Caroline is an amnesia victim following a terrible accident. Each woman carries grief and yet they find joy in the worst of circumstances. Their lives become entwined through the apartment they shared 60 years apart.
Caroline Shelby is an aspiring designer in New York whose life is shaken upside down when she takes guardianship over two children. Leaving the big city behind, she moves back to her hometown of Oysterville on the coast in Washington state. There she uncovers a reality she never knew. This book is a gripping story of women helping women.
My editor recommended this book to me when she learned that my husband and I were traveling to Antarctica. Without a doubt this is one of the most uniquely told stories I have ever read. The plot is perfection, and there were laugh-out-loud moments. And it is soon to be a feature film. The book is quirky, entertaining, and funny! A must-read.
My daughter Adele passed this book onto me, and I am so glad she did! It is a mystery with romance and surprises on every page. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1960s. A story of wealth and love. It is one of the best plotted books I have read in a very long time.
This book has been my best read of 2019 thus far, I could not put it down. The story lingered in my mind long after I turned the last page, and even then it was hard to let go of the characters. It reads almost like nonfiction. I enjoyed the interview format, and I could almost hear the music along with the written lyrics in the book. I am so thankful to have been handed this book.
This book was written after interviewing a Holocaust survivor, and it tells a story of hope and courage. I have been really enjoying historical fiction novels this year, and this book is on the top of that list.
When describing your identity, does the word “reader” find a place on that list? Ours, too. Which is why we’re so fascinated by the reading habits, histories, and preferences of other readers. Long Story Short offers a glimpse into authors’ lives as readers — from the people who helped them fall in love with reading to their all-time favorite books. Read on for this week’s installment of Long Story Short with bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.
1. The person who helped me fall in love with reading was: my mom!
2. One book I love to give as a giftis: The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Incredible book about the Great Migration from African Americans in the South to the North and West.
3. If I could write like one other author, it’d be Tayari Jones because: her writing is so gorgeous and thoughtful and it pulls you deep into a story. But truthfully, I’d only want to be able to write like her for a week or so, just to see how it feels, and then get to come back to myself — I love writing like me!
4. One book I think deserves more attention is Whiskey & Ribbons, by Leesa Cross-Smith because: it’s a smart, heartfelt story about love and loss and family.
5. The friend I always turn to for reading recommendations is my friend (and fellow author) Amy Spalding because: she has fantastic taste and reads really widely, so I’m always sure to discover a book through her I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.
6. If I’m not enjoying a book, I put it down — too many books, too little time
7. One book that absolutely shocked me was: The Power by Naomi Alderman because: of how every twist in the book was the last thing I expected. It’s surprising, absorbing, addictive, and made me think a lot.
8. My favorite place to read is: the beach!
9. If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, it’d be The Collected Works of Shakespeare because: I need something long and endlessly entertaining if it’s going to be the only book I read for the rest of my life!
10. The book I’m currently reading is Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher
Don’t miss Jasmine Guillory’s latest release below!
Even now I still dream about Brodie’s Watch, and the nightmare is always the same. I am standing in the gravel driveway and the house looms before me like a ghost ship adrift in the fog. Around my feet mist curls and slithers and it coats my skin in icy rime. I hear waves rolling in from the sea and crashing against the cliffs, and overhead, seagulls scream a warning to stay far, far away. I know that Death waits behind that front door, yet I do not retreat because the house is calling to me. Perhaps it will always call to me, its siren song compelling me to once again climb the steps to the porch, where the swing creaks back and forth.
I open the door.
Inside everything is wrong, all wrong. This is no longer the magnificent house I once lived in and loved. The massive carved banister is strangled by vines that twist like green serpents around the railing. The floor is carpeted by dead leaves which have blown in through shattered windows. I hear the slow tap, tap of rainwater dripping relentlessly from the ceiling, and I look up to see one solitary crystal pendant dangling from the skeletal chandelier. The walls, once painted cream and adorned with handsome crown molding, are now streaked with tentacles of mold. Long before Brodie’s Watch was here, before the men who built it hauled up wood and stone, hammered beams to posts, this hill where it stands was a place of moss and forest. Now the forest is reclaiming its territory. Brodie’s Watch is in retreat and the smell of decay hangs in the air.
I hear the humming of flies somewhere above me, and as I start up the staircase the ominous sound grows louder. The once-sturdy steps I climbed every night sag and groan with my weight. The banister, once polished to satiny smoothness, bristles with thorns and vines. I reach the second-floor landing and a fly appears, buzzing as it circles and dive-bombs my head. Another fly moves in, and another, as I start down the hallway toward the master bedroom. Through the closed door I can hear the flies’ greedy hum in the room beyond, where something has drawn them to feast.
I open the door and the hum instantly becomes a roar. They attack me in a cloud so thick I am choking. I wave and flail at them but they swarm my hair, my eyes, my mouth. Only then do I realize what has drawn the flies to this room. To this house.
Me. They are feasting on me.
I had felt no such apprehension on that day in early August when I turned onto North Point Way and drove toward Brodie’s Watch for the first time. I knew only that the road needed maintenance and the pavement was rippled by the roots of encroaching trees. The property manager had explained to me on the phone that the house was over a hundred fifty years old and currently still under renovation. For the first few weeks, I would have to put up with a pair of carpenters swinging hammers up in the turret, but that was the reason why a house with such a commanding ocean view could be rented for a song.
“The tenant who was renting it had to leave town a few weeks ago, months before her lease was up. So you called me at just the right time,” she said. “The owner doesn’t want his house to stand vacant all summer and he’s anxious to find someone who’ll take good care of it. He’s hoping to find another female tenant. He thinks women are much more responsible.”
The lucky new female tenant just happens to be me.
In the backseat my cat, Hannibal, yowls, demanding to be released from the pet carrier he’s been trapped in since we left Boston six hours ago. I glance back and see him glaring at me through the grate, a hulking coon cat with pissed-off green eyes. “We’re almost there,” I promise, although I’m beginning to worry that I’ve taken a wrong turn. Roots and frost heaves have cracked the pavement and the trees seem to crowd in ever closer. My old Subaru, already weighed down with luggage and kitchenware, scrapes the road as we bounce along an ever-narrowing tunnel through pines and spruce. There is no room here to turn around; my only choice is to continue up this road, wherever it may lead. Hannibal yowls again, this time more urgently as if to warn: Stop now, before it’s too late.
Through the overhanging branches I catch glimpses of gray sky, and the woods suddenly give way to a broad slope of granite mottled with lichen. The weathered sign confirms that I’ve arrived at the driveway for Brodie’s Watch, but the road climbs into fog so thick that I can’t see the house yet. I continue up the unpaved driveway, my tires sputtering and spitting gravel. Mist veils my view of windswept scrub brush and granite barrens but I can hear seagulls circling overhead, wailing like a legion of ghosts.
Suddenly there is the house, looming in front of me.
I shut off the motor and just sit for a moment, staring up at Brodie’s Watch. No wonder it had been invisible from the bottom of the hill. Its gray clapboards blend in perfectly with the fog and only faintly can I make out a turret, which soars into low-hanging clouds. Surely there’s been a mistake; I’d been told it was a large house, but I was not expecting this hilltop mansion.
I step out of the car and stare up at clapboards weathered to a silvery gray. On the porch a swing rocks back and forth, squeaking, as if nudged by an unseen hand. No doubt the house is drafty and the heating system is archaic and I imagine damp rooms and air that smells of mold. No, this is not what I had in mind as a summer refuge. I’d hoped for a serene place to write, a place to hide.
A place to heal.
Instead this house feels like enemy territory, its windows glaring at me like hostile eyes. The seagulls scream louder, urging me to run while I still can. I back away and I’m about to retreat to my car when I hear tires crunch up the gravel road. A silver Lexus pulls to a stop behind my Subaru and a blond woman climbs out, waving as she walks toward me. She’s about my age, trim and attractive, and everything about her radiates chipper confidence, from her Brooks Brothers blazer to her I’m your best friend smile.
“You’re Ava, right?” she says, extending her hand. “Sorry I’m a bit late. I hope you haven’t been waiting too long. I’m Donna Branca, the property manager.”
As we shake hands, I’m already hunting for an excuse to back out of the rental agreement. This house is too big for me. Too isolated. Too creepy.
“Gorgeous spot, isn’t it?” Donna gushes, gesturing toward the granite barrens. “It’s a shame you can’t see anything right now with this weather, but when the fog lifts, the ocean view will knock your socks off.”
“I’m sorry, but this house isn’t exactly what—”
She’s already climbing the porch steps, the house keys dangling in her hand. “Voila. Home sweet home!”
The front door swings open, revealing a gleaming oak floor and a staircase with an elaborately carved banister. Whatever excuses I had on the tip of my tongue suddenly evaporate and an inexorable force seems to pull me over the threshold.
Philippa Gregory is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She founded Gardens for the Gambia, a charity to dig wells in poor rural schools in The Gambia, and has provided nearly 200 wells. She welcomes visitors to her website PhilippaGregory.com.
The church was gray against a paler gray sky, the bell tower dark against the darker clouds. The young woman could hear the faint stir of the shingle as the tide came in, whispering across the mudflats, recoiling from the beach with a little hiss.
It was the height of summer, the eve of midsummer, the apex of the year, and though the night was warm, she felt chilled, for she had come to meet a ghost. This was the walking night for the dead, this night and their saints’ days; but she did not think that her drunken violent husband had been under the care of any particular saint. She could not imagine angelic eyes on his erratic progress from sea to alehouse, and back again. She did not know if he was run away, or dead, or pressed as a sailor in the disloyal fleet that had turned on their king and now sailed under the rebel flag for parliament. If she were to see him, she would know he was dead for sure, and she could declare herself a widow and think herself free. She had no doubt that if he had drowned, his ghost would be coming, dripping water through the misty graveyard, on this white night of midsummer, when the sallow gleam from the west showed the sun refusing to sink. Everything was out of its place and time on this full-moon Midsummer Eve. The sun unset, the throne upset, the world overset: a king imprisoned, rebels in power, and a pale moon, white as a skull amid gray flying banners of clouds.
She thought that if she were to meet her husband’s ghost drifting like a sea fret through the dark yew trees, she would be the happiest that she had been since her girlhood. If he was drowned, she was free. If he was among the walking dead, she was certain to meet him, for she had the sight, as her mother had, as her grandmother had, back through the generations, through all the women of her family, who had lived here forever, on the tidelands of the Saxon shore.
The church porch had old wooden benches made from warped ships’ timbers on either side of the entrance. She tightened the shawl around her shoulders and took a seat, wait- ing till the moon, hidden now and then by unraveling clouds, should reach its midnight height over the church roof. She leaned back against the cold stones. She was twenty-seven years old and as weary as a woman of sixty. Her eyes closed; she started to slide into sleep.
The creak of the lych-gate and rapid footsteps on the shingle path of the graveyard woke her at once, driving her to her feet. She had not thought that the ghost of her husband would come early — in life he was always late for everything — but if he were here, then she must speak to him. Breathlessly, she stepped from the church porch, nerving herself to face whatever wraith was coming towards her from the darkness of the graveyard, on the whispering breath from the incoming sea. She could smell the brine on the air, she could sense his advance, perhaps soaked in seawater, perhaps trailing seaweed — and then a young man rounded the corner of the porch, recoiled at the sight of her white face, and cried out: “God save me! Are you of this earth or the other world? Speak!”
For a moment, she was so shocked that she said nothing. She stood very still and stared at him, as if she would see through him, her eyes narrowed, trying to see beyond her earthly vision. Perhaps he was one of the undead: undrowned, unhanged, walking in this night, which was their night, under the mid-summer moon, which was their moon. He was as handsome as a faerie prince from a story, with long, dark hair tied back at the nape of his neck, and dark eyes set in a pale face. Behind her back she clenched her thumbs between her fingers in the sign of the cross, her only defense against being seduced, or carried away, and her heart broken by this young lord from the other kingdom, from the other world.
“Speak!” He was breathless. “Who are you? What are you? A vision?”
“No, no!” she contradicted him. “I’m a woman, a mortal woman, the ferryman’s sister, the widow of Zachary the missing fisherman.”
Long after, she would remember that the first thing she told him was that she was a mortal woman, a married woman, a widow, anchored in this world by the power of a man.
“Who? What?” he demanded. He was a stranger: these names meant nothing to him though anyone from the tidelands would have known them at once.
“Who are you?” She could tell he was gentry by his beautifully cut dark jacket, by the lace at his throat. “What’re you doing here, sir?” She looked behind him for his servants, for his guard.
The empty graveyard stretched out in the eerie half darkness to the low wall of knapped flints shining darkly in the moonlight as if they had been washed over and left wet. The thickly crowned trees leaned over, casting a darker shade on the dark ground. There was nothing to see but the light of the moon throwing the shadows of the headstones onto the ragged scythed grass, and nothing to hear but the soft sigh of incoming tide under a full moon.
“I can’t be seen,” he muttered.
“Nobody here to see you.” Her abrupt dismissal of his fear made him look again at her oval face, her dark gray eyes: a woman as beautiful as a Madonna in an icon, but drab here in the unearthly half-light, her tattered kerchief hiding her hair, shapeless in her ragged clothes.
“What are you doing here at this time of night?” he asked suspiciously.
“I came to pray.” She would not tell this stranger that it was well known that a widow would meet her dead husband if she waited for him in the churchyard on Midsummer Eve.
“Pray?” he repeated. “God bless you for the thought. Let’s go in then. I’ll pray with you.”
He turned the heavy ring handle on the door and caught the bar as it lifted on the other side so that it made no sound. He led the way into the silent church, quiet as a thief. She hesitated, but he waited for her, holding the door open without another word and she had to follow him. When he closed the door behind them there was only the dim light from the old stained-glass windows, gold and bronze on the stone-flagged floor. The sound of the rising sea was shut out.
“Leave the door open,” she said nervously. “It’s so dark in here.”
He opened it a crack and a ribbon of pale moonlight stretched along the aisle to their feet.
“What did you come here for?” she asked. “Are you a gentleman from London?” It was the only explanation for his clean collar and his good leather boots, the little pack that he carried, and the warm intelligence in his face.
“I can’t say.”
She thought he must be one of the agents traveling the country seeking recruits for either parliament or king, except that nobody ever came to Sealsea Island, and he was alone without companions, or even horses, as if he had been dropped from the sky like a stormbringer, swung low from the clouds, for ill-doing to mortals, ready to blow away again on a summer gale.
“Are you smuggling, sir?”
His short laugh, nipped off when he heard his voice echo eerily in the empty church, denied it.
“You cannot tell anyone you saw me.”
“Nor you tell of me,” she returned. “Can you keep a secret?”
She sighed a cloudy breath in the cold musty air. “God knows I keep many.”
He hesitated, as if he did not know whether or not he dared to trust her. “Are you of the new faith?” he asked.
“I don’t know the rights or the wrongs of it,” she said cautiously. “I pray as the minister tells me.”
“I’m of the old faith, the true faith,” he confessed in a whisper. “I was invited here, but the people I was going to meet are away, and their house, where I would have been safe, is closed and dark. I have to hide somewhere tonight, and if I cannot meet with them, then I must somehow get back to London.”
Alinor stared at him as if he were in truth a faerie lord, and a danger to a mortal woman. “D’you say you’re a priest, sir?”
He nodded as if he did not trust words.
“One sent from France to do the heretic services with the hid- den papists?”
He grimaced. “Our enemies would say that. I would say I serve the true believers in England, and I am loyal to the ordained king.”
She shook her head, uncomprehending. The civil war had come no nearer than Chichester, six miles north, when the little town had collapsed under a brisk siege from the parliament forces.
“They handed over all the papists when Chichester fell,” she warned him. “Even the bishop ran away. They’re all for parliament round here.”
“But not you?”
She shrugged. “No one’s done anything for me or mine. But my brother’s an army man, and very true to them.”
“But you won’t hand me over?”
She hesitated. “D’you swear you’re not a Frenchman?”
“An Englishman born and bred. And faithful to my country.” “But spying for the king?”
“I am loyal to the ordained King Charles,” he told her. “As every Englishman should be.”
She shook her head, as if grand words meant nothing to her. The king had been driven from his throne, his rule shrunk to his household, his palace was little Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of Wight. Alinor knew nobody who would declare loyalty to such a king, who had brought war into his country for six long years.
“Were you going to stay at the Priory, sir?”
“I may not tell you who would have hidden me. It is not my secret to tell.”
She made a little impatient noise at his excessive secrecy. Sealsea Island was such a small community, not more than a hundred families; she knew every one of them. It was obvious that only the lord of the manor would have offered hiding to a papist priest and royalist spy. Only the Priory, the one great house on the island, had a bed and linen fit for a gentleman like this. Only the lord of the manor, sir William Peachey, would dream of supporting the defeated king. All his tenants were for parliament and for freedom from the crushing taxation that came from king and lords. And she thought it was typical of Sir William to make such a dangerous offer and then carelessly fail to honor it, leaving his secret guest in mortal danger. If this young man were caught by parliament men they would hang him for a spy.
Obsessed with the HBO adaptation of Liane Moriarty‘s bestselling novel, Big Little Lies? Us, too! Luckily, this star-studded cast is filled with bookworms, so there are some great book recommendations from the cast of Big Little Lies! We know that Reese Witherspoon has her own book club, which regularly advertises her favorite reads, but what titles are the rest of the Monterey Five and friends loving? Here are the books the stars of this award-winning series absolutely adore, and think you may, too!
Reese Witherspoon (Madeline Mackenzie)
The Cactus is Witherspoon’s latest book club pick, and she’s very excited about it. Reese recommends it especially for those who enjoyed her previous pick, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, because “[it has] a character who has a very similar voice.” She gushed, “I loved it,” and her rave review has us even more excited to add this to our to-be-read pile!
Henry and June definitely made an impact on Woodley. “Anaïs is like the ultimate goddess,” the actress told Vulture. “I feel really connected to her femininity.” This sensual, noir read, layered with important feminist ideals, is a book you won’t easily forget. No wonder Shailene loves it!
Kravitz discussed her love of J. D. Salinger in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, citing Franny and Zooey as one of her favorites. These two stories follow the lives of New Yorkers Franny and Zooey and are part of a larger project that Salinger had to create a collection of stories showcasing the inside lives of residents in 20th-century New York City.
Meryl Streep (Mary Louise Wright)
In a behind-the-scenes interview for the film One True Thing, in which Streep starred, the actress admitted that this Anna Quindlen novel is one of her favorites. “You know, when you have a favorite book you feel like you own it in some way,” explained Streep. “So, when there was news that they were gonna make a film of it, I called my agent and said find out about that.”
Kathryn Newton (Abigail Carson)
Newton expressed her interest in Tiny Beautiful Things on Twitter, saying an “amazing” friend gave her a copy of the book after she’d seen the play in New York City. The rest of the Big Little Lies cast is not unfamiliar with Cheryl Strayed‘s work either. In 2014, Witherspoon and Dern starred in the film adaptation of Strayed’s memoir, Wild, which was directed by the Big Little Lies season one director, Jean-Marc Vallée.
Alexander Skarsgård (Perry Wright)
Skarsgård’s listed the Vladimir Nabokov classic Lolita as one of his “favorite novels” in a New York Times blog Q&A. His recommendation is just one more reason to pick up the timeless classic that tells the chilling tale of Humbert Humbert’s obsession with the young and beautiful Dolores Haze.
Adam Soctt (Ed Mackenzie)
In putting together a reading list for People, Scott called Before the Fall “an incredibly tense” novel. “[It’s a] heartbreaking adventure with questions of family, art and media,” he went on. “I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.”
James Tupper (Nathan Carlson)
Tupper called The Family Gene “great” on Instagram when he encouraged fans to attend a reading event with author Joselin Linder. If you love inspiring nonfiction, then you’ll want to add this recommendation to your list. Chronicling Linder’s journey as she comes to terms with her fatal genetic disorder, The Family Gene finding hope after even the grimmest of diagnoses.
This book review is from Hannah Reynolds, an editor and blogger at BookBub who loves romance novels, young adult fantasy, chocolate, and lots of tea and coffee. Read on for her review of Beatriz Williams’s The Golden Hour, arriving July 9.
Beatriz Williams’s latest novel, The Golden Hour, is a delightful, sun-drenched tale rooted in the lives of two women and satisfying nostalgia. I found it compulsively readable, and poured through the book in two short days. Not only is Williams’s plot engaging and her protagonists likable, but the prose is easy and elegant, and the tightly woven storylines kept the pages flying by. (Also, it’s hard not to love a novel that begins with a reference to one of your favorite short stories — in this case, The Yellow Wallpaper).
The Golden Hour is a World War II book, but it’s different than many I’ve read: While we briefly visit war-torn Europe, the majority of the book takes place in the Bahamas. The British governor at the time was none other than the Duke of Windsor — also known as the former king of England, who’d abdicated in order to marry an American, Wallis Simpson. (This is a couple I’m mainly familiar with from their appearance on The Crown, where they’re rather mean to Elizabeth, which I don’t like at all!)
Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor.
Newly arrived in Nassau is Lulu Randolph, a reporter from New York City determined to break her way into the vaunted circles of the Windsors. She needs to produce a regular gossip column in order to keep herself afloat, even if she’d rather write about politics. Part of her job includes cozying up to Wallis Simpson — not exactly a hard task, given the flowing champagne and jewelry lavished on the duchess’ admirers — but a bit of an ugly one, given the Windsors’ questionable sympathies.
Into this court soaked in sun and money and intrigue comes, too, a Mr. Benedict Thorpe, who might be a botanist, but might be something else entirely. Thorpe and Lulu’s relationship is one of the central themes of the book: not just their falling-in-love, but how far she’ll go to keep him safe. Because even as Lulu’s time in the Bahamas unwinds for the reader, so does another story: the tale of Lulu arriving in post-Blitz London, now a very determined Mrs. Thorpe, planning to do anything she can to find her husband — even if that means going up against the British government itself.
And there’s another story woven in here, of another Mrs. Thorpe, in another time. I don’t always love split narrative devices — sometimes I’m more drawn to one protagonist’s point of view than another and hurry through some chapters — but as much as I loved reading about headstrong Lulu, I equally enjoyed the rather melancholy Elfriede, who lived some 40 years before. Maybe it’s because each storyline focused on the endurance of love — over years and across countries — and the importance of family, whether found or blood. Both of these women’s stories were filled with an aching yearning. The same yearning one might feel in the passing of the golden hour, that fraction of the day when the sun gilds the world.
Oh, and if the rich writing and the love stories aren’t enough to capture you, there’s also a murder, and music, and men with pretty hair, and very, very lovely descriptions of the Bahamas. How much are flights this time of year? I may need to buy one.
I highly recommend The Golden Hour — I hope you pick it up and like it as much as I did!
Can’t get enough of Beatriz Williams? Check out her previous novels below: