Episode 74: Swallowed by a Secret with Author Risa Nyman

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our Library Laura Podcast guest is Author Risa Nyman. She's written two middle grade mysteries, Swallowed by A Secret and Spooked by A Suspicion. She's a Boston native -- and has the accent to prove it -- but recently moved to Rhode Island. Before becoming a published author, she worked for many years for the League of Women Voters  (The League is the only direct descendant of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and celebrated its 100th birthday in 2020, the year the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified).  

Get in touch with Risa Nyman on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and on her website. Pick up a copy of Swallowed by a Secret and Spooked by a Suspicion today! 

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Risa’s deep dive into creative writing started when she found finding three pennies in a neat stack in a completely empty apartment that belonged to her mother. It’s a long story. She was sure those magical pennies would make a great story. She never finished that children's book about the 3 pennies, but she found her voice in middle grade! She believes it's important that we have books where children face difficult situations in fiction, because today's kids do have to face a variety of difficult situations. We both love the fact that middle grade lit also offers children that note of hope...that not everything may be tied up in a nice little bow, but there's a understanding that life goes on, and that's a good thing. 

After writing Swallowed by A Secret, it was a twitter pitch contest that connected Risa with Immortal Works Press, her publisher. She said they've been a joy to work with. I first heard about Immortal Works during my interview with Ruth Mitchell on episode 25, and have since interviewed several members of their team on episode 58.

Risa Nyman's books

Swallowed by A Secret - Swallowed by a Secret was inspired by a tragic event that happened in Risa's community. She started thinking about how a family might handle that. Then she contemplated the nature of keeping secrets. Do you have a right to keep secrets? What are the consequences of keeping (or not keeping) secrets? The book takes a great look at school, family, friendship, mystery, secrets, grief, and mental illness. 

Spooked by a Suspicion  - This stand alone sequel to Rocky's story was released August 19th, 2021. The two books can be read in any order, as the second book doesn't spoil the mystery in the first book. Here's the book description (from the publisher's website): 

About to transition from middle school to high school, Rocky is shocked when his mother announces her intention to marry Ted, a devious man with a devil's beard, ominous eyebrows in constant motion, and black, beady eyes. Rocky suffers a series of strange accidents and is convinced that Ted is using evil powers against him. When Ted arranges to work at Rocky's summer program, Rocky plots with his girlfriend, Olive, to expose Ted in an epic showdown to stop the marriage. But Rocky's plans are halted when he's accused of stealing at his summer program and he suspects Ted is framing him. Scared no one will believe him, Rocky runs into the woods where he encounters a grungy, old hermit with a tragic life story who urges Rocky to return and prove his innocence. Rocky must reclaim his own reputation, before he can prosecute his case against Ted.

A discussion guide for Swallowed by A Secret, and a teacher's packet for Spooked by a Suspicion are both available for free on Risa's website. 

Non-Fiction that reads like Fiction 

As a young reader, Risa fell for historical accounts that she found endlessly fascinating, such as Anne Frank's The Diary of A Young Girl an The Day Lincoln was Shot by Jim Bishop, an hour-by-hour account of  April 14, 1865. She enjoyed putting herself in the shoes of these historical people and seeing the human details behind significant historical events. 

Risa really enjoys Erik Larson's books, such as In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin and The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. 

The Library Book by Susan Orlean - A fascinating non-fiction look at the fire in the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. 

Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America's Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt by Daniel Barbarisi - I was currently reading this book when Risa and I talked. I ended up finding it fascinating, as it's a non-fiction account of a man who hid a treasure, wrote a poem full of clues, and set off a huge treasure hunt that spanned several states and several years. There's some content warnings for this one, as this did not necessarily bring out the best in people! 

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon - I recommended this book because, while it is actually fiction, it is very strongly based in the true story of spy Nancy Wake and is well-researched. 

Middle Grade 

As she's a middle grade author, Risa reads quite a bit of middle grade fiction to keep herself up-to-date on the industry. She also reads quite a few ARCs from fellow authors. Here's some of the middle grade books we discussed: 

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks - Risa Nyman and Janae Marks were in the same 2020 debut authors group. Zoe's story includes wrongful conviction and is a fascinating middle grade mystery. If you enjoy Nyman's books, you'll enjoy Marks' and vice-versa.  I'm so glad these two authors have connected! 

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin is a middle grade book that Risa very much enjoyed and highly recommends. It's a debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother's mental illness.

We discussed books that we'd love to see made into movies. Risa would love to see Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams made into a film. She describes it as a beautifully written, moving story. Mine is The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, which is one of my favorites. I also think Risa would enjoy reading this book as it fits well with some of the other books we discussed. 

Justice in A Bottle, Bricktown Boys, and Fairy Dust Fumble by Pete Fanning 

We also discussed that Pete Fanning's step-mother Diane Fanning is also an established author (very different type of books - mostly murder mysteries and true crime). One of her books, Through the Window, included research that led to an innocent mother being released from prison as it was confirmed a serial killer had murdered her son, not her. You can read more about it here

We both enjoy reading using several different media, especially the fact that audiobooks let us read in places and times where we wouldn't otherwise be able to read -- taking a walk, doing chores, etc.  What's your favorite medium to read? Audiobook, book, ebook? Library or owned book? Tell me in the comments below! 

September is National Suicide Prevention Month 

One of the big issues that Risa Nyman's book tackles (in an audience-appropriate way) is mental illness and suicide. If you or a friend needs help or support, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) anytime. Take care of yourselves, friends! 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours, 

~ Laura 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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