Still Savoring this Summer Read: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

In the Deep South, fall does not announce itself with a dramatic temperature shift; summertime heat may linger well into autumn, which explains why I got sunburn on my late October wedding day. For me, fall begins with a certain melancholy as teachers and students return to school in short sleeves. Then the acorns start their angry rain on my metal sunroom roof and my husband’s NFL and fantasy football obsession rolls from simmer to boil. Still, I can’t slip quietly into fall without sharing one of my favorite books from this past summer: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter.

It’s Atlanta, 1974, and the city’s first female police officers are receiving a less than warm welcome as they join the force. Newbies like Kate Murphy are issued uniforms and shoes three sizes too big. Even Maggie Lawson, who followed her brother and uncle into the line of duty, is the focus of hazing and harassment from her male counterparts. Still, the department has bigger problems–a serial killer who’s targeting cops.

“Summer is here and murder is back, just the way we like it. Chief among the perpetrators: Karin Slaughter and Amanda Kyle Williams, two Atlanta crime writers with strong female protagonists who make the city and its countryside their beat.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 27, 2014).

Karin Slaughter interviewed a number of Atlanta’s first female police officers when researching Cop Town. She regaled us with some of their stories at a July fundraiser for the Gwinnett County Public Library. Receiving daily threats, which were sometimes accompanied by feces or lewd graffiti on a work locker, these women carried out their duties under incredible circumstances. And that was just at police headquarters. Although Cop Town has been billed as Slaughter’s first standalone thriller, the book is begging for a series with all the rich material she has mined from her research into the integration of the Atlanta Police Department.

I’ve been a fan of Slaughter’s work since reading her Grant County Series. Her books feature authentic law enforcement characters and the crimes depicted usually contain some disturbing seed of truth. Slaughter said at the July reading that her editor once commented that a storyline was too far-fetched. The author replied with a newspaper clipping on which the outrageous storyline had been based. It is this element of truth that simultaneously makes you want to cower under the covers and read more about the courageous first women police officers who endured much to be a part of Cop Town.

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Reader’s Block and The Ten Books Challenge

Southern Spines Summer ReadingThe summer came and went rather quickly, as most summers are wont to do. After powering through two back-to-back classes in May through July, I had a few weeks in August to rest and recuperate before the beginning of the fall semester.

90% of my productivity disappeared during the three weeks that were my summer break from school. After a solid seven months of reading and writing for school, work and Southern Spines, I experienced what others have dubbed reader’s block. I just could not read more than a few pages a night before going to bed. I couldn’t finish a book, and it had nothing to do with the quality of the books on my nightstand. I had hit a wall and couldn’t bring myself to crack a spine or write about books.

The fall semester is now underway, which has forcefully jolted me back into binge-reading, but I am still having problems with the writing. Writer’s block (aka fear) has really laid into me in the past couple of weeks, which is doubly terrifying when you have to write for a living. A good friend who is also a full-time writer advised me to abstain from all television and only read books for pleasure (with the exception of my required reading for school) as a cure for the writer’s block. “Oh, and don’t play Candy Crush either,” she added. FYI: I have never indulged in Candy Crush, but I did realize that I’ve been playing Sudoku on my iPad rather obsessively. It’s one way that I’ve been numbing out.

So why in the hell am I here? As a way of thwarting the beast. This is one easy exercise that I borrowed from Facebook, where another writer friend challenged me to name ten books that have left an indelible impression on me. I knew if I spent too much time thinking about this challenge, I wouldn’t do it, so I just cranked out the following favorites with a little explanation for each. Here’s to wading back in! Have you ever experienced reader’s block? Writer’s block? What cures have worked for you?

Ten Memorable Books

Ten Memorable Books

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I desperately wanted, like most readers, to be as brave as Atticus and to spend a lost summer tracking Boo Radley with my older brother and best friend.
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. My high school librarian, Mary Brown, told me I would love this book and I did. I’ve been obsessed with true crime and nonfiction novels ever since. I considered writing my thesis on Capote, but music took me in a different direction.
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I needed one of Tan’s tear-gobbling turtles when I openly wept while reading this book on the subway.
  4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I saw the cartoon movie first, but have enjoyed subsequent page-turning escapes into Narnia.
  5. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. This was one of those instances of finding the book I absolutely needed to pull me through a difficult time. Plus, Wally Lamb is one of the kindest authors I’ve ever met.
  6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I still hear my third grade teacher, Mary Walker, reading this book aloud to our class.
  7. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. It’s hard to pick only one of her novels, but images from this mystery still percolate in my brain. Plus, I love Thalia.
  8. The World According to Garp by John Irving. This was my introduction to John Irving. I read a good portion of the book one night when a crazy doctor insisted that I submit to a sleep study; there was very little sleep to study.
  9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read this over the course of a month or two, during a time when I had severe reader’s block. Only reading a few pages a night forced me to savor the stories. I recently re-read this book for a class, which revealed so many new layers.
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Often I’ll pick this book up off the shelf and read the first couple of pages. Have you ever caught yourself not breathing while reading an involved scene in a book? This one will stop your breath.
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Q&A with Amanda Kyle Williams, Author of Don’t Talk to Strangers, on She Reads

Amanda Kyle Williams, author of Don't Talk to Strangers

Photo credit: Kaylinn Gilstrap

I recently jumped at the opportunity to interview one of my favorite writers, Amanda Kyle Williams, for She Reads.

I’ve admired Amanda’s work since reading her first book in the Keye Street series, The Stranger You Seek. In 2012, Amanda and I spent a great morning exploring the Georgian Terrace Hotel, also known as Keye Street’s upscale Atlanta address. Amanda was one of the first authors to agree to an interview here on Southern Spines. We had a great time eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts (one of Keye’s favorite vices) and talking about the second Keye Street novel, Stranger in the Room. You can read that interview here.

Book Three, Don’t Talk to Strangers, came out earlier this month and it might be my favorite Amanda Kyle Williams book to date. I wolfed it down faster than one of those hot, fresh glazed doughnuts. Like any good series writer, Amanda introduces some new characters, new eerie twists and turns, then leaves us clamoring for the next installment. In the She Reads interview, I asked Amanda about the rural setting of Don’t Talk to Strangers, balancing the creepy with the funny in her storytelling and plotting what’s next for Keye Street. Rush right over to read her answers AND for your chance to win all three of the books in the Keye Street series.

Amanda Kyle Williams Interview and Giveaway on She Reads

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Quick! Read This: It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks

It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks If she ever tires of writing women’s fiction, Erika Marks could easily nab a job working for one of those “Best Beaches” surveys. Or at the very least, she could become an ambassador for the Folly Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau. I defy anyone to read Erika’s latest novel It Comes in Waves and not want to travel to the book’s setting of Folly Beach, South Carolina.

I was first introduced to Erika’s work a couple of years ago when she wrote about another coastal town, Cradle Harbor, Maine, in The Mermaid Collector. The author graciously answered my questions about The Mermaid Collector in this Southern Spines post. Erika’s books are manna for land-locked book lovers who yearn to live as a lighthouse keeper on the coast of Maine or carve waves with strapping surfers in South Carolina (or at least gaze at them while planted under a large umbrella with a fruity drink and plenty of SPF50).

Having met and spent time with Erika a few times now–most recently when she visited the Book Exchange in Marietta, Georgia–I can tell you she’s as lovely as she is talented. Her books just keep getting better. Book Exchange owner Cat Blanco tells me she still has a few signed copies left of It Comes in Waves, but you need to call soon because she’s hand-selling this book like crazy. Call 770-427-4848 and Book Exchange will ship a signed copy direct to your door. A signed copy of the book goes in the mail today to devoted Southern Spines reader Rachel C. in Lexington, South Carolina.

To learn more about Erika Marks, visit her author website at and follow @erikamarksauthr on Twitter.

Publisher's Description of It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks
For competitive surfer Claire “Pepper” Patton, the waves of South Carolina’s Folly Beach once held the promise of a loving future and a bright career—until her fiance, Foster, broke the news that he and Claire’s best friend, Jill, were in love. Eighteen years later, now forty-two and a struggling single parent to a rebellious teenage daughter, Claire has put miles between that betrayal and that coast. But when ESPN invites her back to Folly Beach for a documentary on women in surfing, Claire decides it might be the chance she needs to regain control of her life and reacquaint herself with the unsinkable young woman she once was. But not everything in Folly Beach is as Claire remembers it, most especially her ex-best friend, Jill, who is now widowed and raising her and Foster’s teenage son. An unexpected reunion with Claire will uncover a guilt that Jill has worked hard to bury—and bring to the surface years of unspoken blame. When Claire crosses paths with a sexy pro-surfer who is as determined to get Claire back on a board as he is to get her in his bed, a chance for healing might not be far behind—or is it too late for two estranged friends to find forgiveness in the place that was once their coastal paradise, where life was spent barefoot and love was as dizzying as the perfect wave…
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July 2014 She Reads Book Club Selection: That Night by Chevy Stevens

That Night by Chevy StevensThe premise of the July 2014 She Reads Book Club selection is gripping: a teenage girl and her boyfriend are accused of murdering the girl’s sister. No one in the small town believes that Toni and Ryan are innocent, not even Toni’s grieving parents. This sounds like the perfect setup for one of those race-against-the-clock legal thrillers where Toni and Ryan ultimately go free at trial, but this is not that book. Their story and the truth about what happened That Night will only be revealed after Toni and Ryan have served half of their young lives in prison. In fact, the book begins when 34-year-old Toni leaves prison, then travels back and forth in time.

Chevy Stevens, author of That Night

Chevy Stevens, author of That Night

That Night takes place on Vancouver Island, where author Chevy Stevens grew up and where she still lives with her husband and daughter. This is Stevens’s fourth novel. Her debut novel, Still Missing, was a New York Times bestseller and won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. Visit her author website at or follow @ChevyStevens on Twitter.

Throughout the month of July, She Reads will be sharing extras about That Night and guest posts from the author. You can also enter to win one of five copies of the book. Check it out at

Publisher's Description of That Night by Chevy Stevens
As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison. Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night. But in That Night by Chevy Stevens, the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.
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Atlanta Writers Club: Social Media 102 Workshop with Kimberly Brock and Alison Law

Atlanta Writers Club

Social Media 102 Workshop on July 19th

Author Kimberly Brock and I are getting the band back together. Last December, we were invited to speak at the SCAD Atlanta Writers’ Boot Camp. On July 19th, we’ll tackle similar subject matter at the “Social Media 102″ workshop with the Atlanta Writers Club. The workshop will start at 2:30 p.m. at the Dunwoody Library, located at 5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338.

I’m flattered to be speaking at an Atlanta Writers Club event. This year marks the organization’s 100th anniversary. The event is free for Atlanta Writers Club members. Non-members will have to pay the $40 annual membership fee at the door. The Saturday afternoon workshop alone is worth $40, but you will get so much more from that annual membership. Learn about the workshop in this flyer or visit the Atlanta Writers Club website.

Have questions or topics that you think Kimberly and I should cover in a social media workshop for working writers and aspiring authors? I hope you’ll leave them in the comments below or bring them with you to the workshop.


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Nerd Fiction for Everyone: Lydia Netzer’s How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia NetzerWARNING: I’m about to lay some propaganda on you good people. Because I know and love the author I’m about to recommend to you. I also recently had the privilege of working with her as she prepared for the publication of not one, but two new summer releases. Still, I promise you this post is more public service than public relations because you’re going to want to own and read and re-read How to Tell Toledo from the Night SkyAnd because I had the chance to work with the fabulous Lydia Netzer and her amazing team at St. Martin’s Press, I have an opportunity for you to download a complimentary copy of Lydia’s ebook original Everybody’s Baby on iTunes.

Lydia’s first novel Shine Shine Shine was a New York Times Notable Book for 2012, an Amazon Spotlight Book of the Month, a Target Book Club Pick and was shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize in Fiction. This year she followed up that impressive debut with the publication of ebook novella Everybody’s Baby in June and today’s new release, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky.

In the words of the wise philosopher Huey Lewis, “It’s hip to be square” in Lydia’s books, which all emit geeky goodness. Shine Shine Shine tells the story of Maxon, a robotics expert on a space mission while his wife Sonny is on Earth throwing her suburbanite facade out the car window with her wig. In Everybody’s Baby, an app developer named Billy uses Kickstarter to fund his wife’s in vitro fertilization, which causes problems when Jenna becomes pregnant and strangers line up to claim their crowdfunding perks. And How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky centers on two astronomers, George and Irene, who meet at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy and instantly connect. Are they being sucked into one of Irene’s black holes or is their romance a result of their mothers’ astrological plotting?

I had to admit to Lydia at one point, “You know I don’t like math and science, right?” I dislike most books and movies about space exploration and absolutely refuse to watch the movie Gravity because I can imagine no worse fate than being plunged into space. Still, I love Lydia’s books because they offer something for everyone. If you want to get your nerd on, you can practice your lucid dreaming with Bernice, get lost in one of Belion’s gamer fantasies or manufacture black holes with Irene. Literary fiction fans will appreciate the many allusions to classical literature and the gods who appear to George in Toledo. But if you really just want to read a funny, sexy, smart love story that questions whether or not relationships can be created in the stars, you’ll enjoy How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. If you’re an audiophile, pick up the audiobook version of Toledo, which is narrated by Lydia’s friend and fellow author Joshilyn Jackson.

Other Books by Lydia Netzer

If you’d like to read Lydia Netzer‘s e-novella Everybody’s Baby, here’s your chance. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below to win one of five copies of the book. You will have to use iTunes to download the book to your e-reader–don’t worry, it’s really easy. Everybody’s Baby is an e-original, so no print copies are available. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Quick! Read This: The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller

The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison HellerSometimes you want…you need…to escape your own mundane life and get caught up in someone else’s family drama. This has to be true otherwise reality television shows wouldn’t exist. Today, my husband has escaped into his Man Cave to watch the World Cup matches and my e-reader has teleported me to New York’s Upper East, the setting of L. Alison Heller’s The Never Never Sisters.

In The Never Never Sisters, protagonist Paige Reinhardt is feeling smug and secure in her life. She’s rented a summer cottage in the Hamptons, has a close relationship with her wealthy parents and makes a decent living helping couples save their marriages. Paige’s plans for a relaxing summer start to unravel when her husband, a successful corporate law partner, shows up at home and says he’s been suspended from his job pending an investigation. While her husband holes up in his home office, Paige learns that her estranged older sister is planning a visit to New York City. Sloane’s timing and motives are questionable; she has a long history of drug addiction and hasn’t been part of the family in at least twenty years. Unsure whom she can trust, Paige begins investigating her family’s past and her husband’s present business dealings.

Author L. Alison Heller grew up in Connecticut and earned her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She practices family law in New York, which means she knows a lot about the lawyers and marriage counseling she writes of in the book. USA Today recently declared The Never Never Sisters a “must-read romance.” To learn more about the book and its author, visit Alison Heller’s website or follow @LAlisonHeller on Twitter.

Publisher's Description of The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller
Marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt is counting down the days to summer, eager to reconnect with her workaholic husband at their cozy rental cottage in the Hamptons. But soon a mysterious crisis at Dave’s work ruins their getaway plans. Paige is still figuring out how to handle the unexplained chill in her marriage when her troubled sister suddenly returns after a two-decade silence. Now, instead of enjoying the lazy summer days along the ocean, Paige is navigating the rocky waters of a forgotten bond with her sister in the sweltering city heat. As she attempts to dig deeper into Dave’s work troubles and some long-held family secrets, Paige is shocked to discover how little she knows about the people closest to her. This summer, the self-proclaimed relationship expert will grapple with her biggest challenge yet: Is it worth risking your most precious relationships in order to find yourself?
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Quick! Read This: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

icecreamqueenorchardstreetI met my first bubbie when in my early 20s and living in a predominantly Jewish suburb of Baltimore. My boss’s wife invited me to a family gathering and explained that “bubbie” was the Jewish term for grandmother. Her bubbie, a bored matriarch in a beige sweater set, advised me that I needed to get married if I was going to continue working for her granddaughter’s husband. Only grandmothers and mobsters can deliver such straightforward counsel–half compliment and half threat–without raising eyebrows. I pictured that wise and direct bubbie when reading the first-person account of Lillian Dunkle, better known as The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street.

Dunkle is the sweet, chilly concoction of author Susan Jane GilmanThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is Gilman’s first novel. Lillian Dunkle begins by telling us that she is in legal trouble and wants to set the record straight. She then proceeds to tell her epic life story–from poor Russian immigrant living in a tenement house on Orchard Street to ice cream and media empress dubbed the “Ice Cream Queen of America” by President Eisenhower. Lillian interrupts her reveries only to update her “darlings” on current events or to call famous people or detractors names in Yiddish.

This is a funny book with serious heart. Gilman is a journalist and humorist whose three previous books are nonfiction. She dedicates The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street to Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning immigrant memoir Angela’s Ashes. McCourt was Gilman’s English teacher and mentor at Stuyvesant High School in New York. You can learn more about Gilman at her author website,

Publisher's Description of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street. Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen” — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality. Lillian’s rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
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Quick! Read This: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Books by Tom Rachman

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is the latest novel from author Tom Rachman. His first novel was The Imperfectionists. Learn more about the author at

School has disappeared me again. I’m studying how to teach Chaucer to grade school and college students this term. Did you know that Terry Jones, one of the members of Monty Python, is a Chaucer scholar? After learning that factoid, I attempted again to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on DVD. I’ve seen chunks of Monty Python films and TV episodes before, but I just don’t “get” their brand of humor. My husband is a fan and we both enjoyed seeing the musical Spamalot when it came to Atlanta’s. However, my newly-acquired Chaucer knowledge didn’t loosen up my funny bone during the Holy Grail viewing. I am finding Jones’s book Chaucer’s Knight a most useful text for school.

I believe that author Tom Rachman would understand the above literary rambling. When I arrived at pages 162-163 of the advanced reader copy of Rachman’s second novel, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I cried with laughter because I recognized myself and some of the literary scholars and students I’ve encountered in grad school. Rachman satirically fillets a literary studies student–a character named Emerson no less–on these two pages. But Emerson is only one of the many robust and intricate characters found in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Since this is a “Quick! Read This” post, I’ll share a better description of the book from Random House:

Publisher's Description of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still. Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared. Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers. Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

A big fan of Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists, I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up. Rachman may one day find himself the focus of the literary scholarship he pokes fun at in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. To learn more about the author, visit his website at

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