The One Book You Should Read This Winter

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

Technically we’re recommending two books today. So please forgive us the title of this post. But it was inspired by a conversation Ariel and I had recently about reading in general and book recommendations specifically. We wondered what we would say if someone told us they only had time to read one book this winter. What would we tell them to read? It’s an interesting question and it forced us to think about the books that have truly captured our imaginations recently. So we’re answering it here and we hope it inspires you to both read these novels and to share your own recommendation. We’ll be out and about on social media today using the hashtag #onebookwinter and we’d love you to join us!

Marybeth:

I’m a sucker for a good page turner. Give me a murder, a small town, and some folks keeping secrets and I’m hooked. So that’s why my #onebookwinter is EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE by Mindy Mejia. A novel about the investigation and aftermath of the murder of a beautiful teenager in a small town, this book is about far more than who done it.

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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Everything you want me to beFull of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

Ariel:

In the spring of 2016 I found myself in a miserable reading drought. I started book after book only to abandon them a few pages in. Nothing seemed to click. It happens from time to time and it’s always discouraging but I have learned to wait and pay attention and the right book will come at the right time. So when TWO IF BY SEA by Jacquelyn Mitchard showed up on my doorstep I just knew it was the one. I could feel it from the first page. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never read one her novels before. She’s one of those authors that I have missed along the way but I am now besotted with her and will go back and find everything she’s ever written. I actually dreamed about the characters in TWO IF BY SEA when I wasn’t reading. I counted down the hours until I could pick it up again. I loved it. Just utterly loved it. And when I was finished I wrote her to say how much the book meant to me. (This is something I’ve started doing since my near-miss with Pat Conroy). Ten months have passed and I still think about this book on a regular basis. That, I think, is the gift of reading. And it’s why I’m recommending this novel today.

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**Email readers can view the video here.

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean, an epic story of courage and devotion that spans three continents and the entire map of the human heart.

TwoIfBySeaJust hours after his wife and her entire family perish in the Christmas Eve tsunami in Brisbane, American expat and former police officer Frank Mercy goes out to join his volunteer rescue unit and pulls a little boy from a submerged car, saving the child’s life with only seconds to spare. In that moment, Frank’s own life is transformed. Not quite knowing why, Frank sidesteps the law, when, instead of turning Ian over to the Red Cross, he takes the boy home to the Midwestern farm where he grew up. Not long into their journey, Frank begins to believe that Ian has an extraordinary, impossible telepathic gift; but his only wish is to protect the deeply frightened child. As Frank struggles to start over, training horses as his father and grandfather did before him, he meets Claudia, a champion equestrian and someone with whom he can share his life—and his fears for Ian. Both of them know that it will be impossible to keep Ian’s gift a secret forever. Already, ominous coincidences have put Frank’s police instincts on high alert, as strangers trespass the quiet life at the family farm.

The fight to keep Ian safe from a sinister group who want him back takes readers from the ravaged shores of Brisbane to the middle of America to a quaint English village. Even as Frank and Claudia dare to hope for new love, it becomes clear that they can never let Ian go, no matter what the cost. A suspenseful novel on a grand scale, Two If by Sea is about the best and worst in people, and the possibility of heroism and even magic in ordinary life.

If you could only recommend one book this winter what would it be?

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What’s Saving Our Lives This Winter

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

The winter can be a long, hard season. Cold weather, inclement conditions and lots of time indoors can start to get to us. So when Anne Bogel asked people to share what’s saving their lives during this season, we thought it was a grand idea! So today we’re sharing, linking up over at Anne’s blog, and looking forward to hearing from others. Let us know in the comments what’s saving your life right now!

Marybeth:

Planner videos: I admit I may have a problem with watching these too much. I’m seeking help, looking into counseling, and considering a 12 step program. But in the meantime, I’ve been watching all the planner girls on You Tube who’ve shared their 2017 set-ups, and helped me set up my planner system for this year in turn. I learn from them and am inspired by them. If you’re like me and love planners, go to YouTube and search “Planner Set Up” or “Planner flip throughs” and you will come up with more videos than any one person has time to watch. #sorrynotsorry

Elliptical: Our treadmill died this past summer so we found a used elliptical and put it in my office, right by my desk. This means that I can’t pretend I don’t see it. It also means even on the worst weather days this winter, I get my workout on. I always feel better after and am infinitely glad I have this piece of equipment at my disposal.

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Russian Tea: I mix this up, put it in a Mason jar, and it is my evening drink of choice– a little substitute treat during that time I typically pour a glass of wine or want a bowl of ice cream. It’s the perfect blend of warmth and taste, if you like the taste of orange and spice. If you’d prefer a low/no calorie version, you can find it here. (I’m making it as soon as I run out of what I have!)

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The La La Land Soundtrack: It’s pretty much on repeat play around our house. The other night my daughter and I both had “Here’s to the ones who dream,” stuck in our heads and could not stop singing/humming it. No matter how much the winter doldrums get to me, they can always be lifted with a few songs from this soundtrack!

Community Bible Study: I went back to the local chapter of this international organization after a long, long absence and these Thursday morning get-togethers, with what has turned out to be a fabulous group of women, have been a weekly boost. Real community with other women is irreplaceable. And once a month we have delicious food, which isn’t too shabby either.

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Ariel:

Levoflaxacin: I woke up on January 10th feeling perfectly fine. And I did all the normal things that morning. I walked the kids to the bus stop and chatted with the other parents for a good fifteen to twenty minutes after the bus pulled away. (We do this every day. Can’t explain why, but the corner outside my house is a little block party every weekday morning. I love it!) I tidied the house and checked email and took a shower. And then, about the time that I was rinsing the conditioner from my hair, my back started to ache. By the time I sat down at my desk thirty minutes later it was like I was being swallowed by a wave. Fever and chills and total body aches. Within an hour I was immobile on the couch, which is exactly where my kids and husband found me when they came home later that day. I didn’t get out of bed for ten days. I had the flu last year and, upon visiting my doctor, was told there was nothing they could do for me. That I had to wait it out, and I might not feel better for three weeks. So even though I felt hideous and the timing was awful (I’m on deadline right now) I decided to rest and take care of myself and pray for the best. A week later the alarming side effects started showing up (I’ll spare you the details). I called my husband on the morning of the 17th and did something I’ve never done in the sixteen years we’ve been married: I told him to leave work and take me to the doctor. As it turns out, I didn’t have the flu. I had pneumonia. Really, really bad pneumonia that went untreated for seven days because I’m an idiot and thought I could diagnose myself. Moral of the story: if you have a fever for longer than three days get yourself to the doctor. I am contrary and stupid and over-confident in the health of my immune system and you don’t want to be like me. In the end I was prescribed an antibiotic called levoflaxacin. I’ve come to think of it as turpentine for the lungs and I started feeling better immediately.

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My husband: See above. Someone had to run carpool and cook dinner and do the laundry and, of course, go to work. My husband brought me Gatorade and tissue and ensured that I was at least trying to eat. He made sure the kids brushed their teeth and wore deodorant and put on clean underwear every day (they’re all big kids and you wouldn’t think they’d need the reminder but I am convinced that the young, male mind is filled with nothing but white noise with occasional flashes of panic, so yes, they need the reminder, daily). Anyway, he saved my life in a thousand tiny ways and I understand why the words “in sickness and in health” are so common in wedding vows.

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Random things: almost being finished with my new novel, my house shoes, these d’anjou pear and watercress candles I discovered at Publix, good kitty litter (We got a cat! Her name is Hazel! She poops in the house! We didn’t plan very well for that up front!), the handmade quilt my grandmother gave me twenty years ago.

So, we’re dying to know, what’s saving YOUR life right now?

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What We’re Into: January 2017 Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

It’s that time again– time to reveal what we’ve been obsessed with this first month of 2017. As always it’s random and personal and a little off beat. But we are too, so this list shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Marybeth:

Chapstick Total Hydration in the color Merlot— This has been the perfect daily wear for my lips. It combines the combination of a color I like to wear and the moisturizer that I tend to need in the dry winter months.

This video made by one of my favorite planner You Tubers— she shares some great tips for packing a travel bag, and I love her choice of reading material for the plane!

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La La Land– I loved this movie so much, have seen it twice in theaters, and am tickled with all the Oscar nominations it received. I wrote about my thoughts regarding the message of the movie on She Reads– you can read it here!

Post it notes– these aren’t anything new of course, but this month I’ve placed some in strategic locations around my house, along with a pen, for recording things I think of right where I am. So many times I think of something, intend to keep it in my head till I can get somewhere to write it down but poof! It’s gone before I do so. People who visit our home might wonder why I have a pack of post its in the water holder of my elliptical or in my makeup drawer, but I know it’s to capture thoughts when they come to me. Maybe now I’ll be more productive.

And speaking of productive, if you’re trying to do better in that department in this new year, this new podcast, Productivity  Paradox is one I just subscribed to.

Ariel:

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Photo credit: Native Union

Native Union Night Cable. My husband got this for me for Christmas. And by “got it for me” I mean that I get to use it occasionally. It’s a charging cable with a weighted knot so your phone doesn’t slide off your nightstand. And (bonus!) the cord is 10 feet long so you can plug it in anywhere and don’t have to use little T-Rex arms just to turn off your alarm in the morning. I’m all about the little things that make life easier and this definitely qualifies.

Calphalon Omelet Pan. One of my big goals for this year is to eat breakfast every day. That shouldn’t even rank as a goal, I know, but somewhere along the way I started hating breakfast. Probably about the same time that I started over-consuming coffee. And since it’s really bad for your health to skip breakfast (and to drink too much coffee loaded with sugar and cream), I’m trying to get back on track. And I’m trying to make it high protein and the easiest way to do that is to eat eggs. Alas, I HATE eggs. Unless they are scrambled, deviled, or in an omelet. Therefore, I bought my husband an omelet pan for Christmas so he can make me breakfast every day. See what I did there?

Tamed Jalapeños. They’re like the perfect love child between a jalapeño and a banana pepper and I’ve been putting them on everything lately. Deviled eggs (don’t knock it till you try it). Nachos. Salads. Omelets. You name it. I love jalapeños but I don’t love how the heat takes over what you’re eating and prevents you from actually tasting your meal. So these are the perfect solution. They have a little bit of heat with just the right amount of vinegar and a lot of taste. BOOM! The garnish of my dreams.

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Perfect Books For The Teen Boy Who Doesn’t Like Fiction

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

We joke that our oldest son is President of the Nerd Club. The child loves nothing more than a random fact followed by a hypothetical question. What he does not love, however, is a plot. Or characters. Or setting. Oh, he’ll read a novel occasionally, and he’s even become deeply absorbed in a few. But the longer I observer him, the more I realize that he is, primarily, a non-fiction guy. And (despite feeling a lingering sense of failure given my profession) this is okay. Like all people everywhere, my son is allowed to enjoy the kind of books he enjoys. Maybe it’s a season. Maybe it’s set in stone. Who knows. But what matters to me right now is that he reads. So, if you happen to know a kid like mine, here are four books he (or she) might love.

**Update: Said teenage boy just peered over my shoulder and proclaimed, “Hey! I like fiction. Why do you think I read the Maze Runner books?” Apparently he just likes specific kinds of novels and wants to read them on his own terms without any sort of commentary from his mother. Knowing him he’ll go on a three year fiction bender now just to prove me wrong. Whatever. These books are still cool and my kid loves them and yours might too. Happy reading!

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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

My son, the King Of Hypothetical Questions returns to this book almost daily, regaling me with what he’s learned and pondering about absurdities not covered within these pages.

what IfAbout the book:

From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.

Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following.

Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.

The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with updated and expanded versions of the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? will be required reading for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.

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Atlas Obscura: An Explorers Guise to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton

There is no random bit of  information, no obscure fact, no piece of historical minutia that goes unappreciated by my son. And this masterpiece of a tome pushes all his buttons.

Atlas ObscuraAbout the book:

It’s time to get off the beaten path. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.

Talk about a bucket list: here are natural wonders—the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, or a baobob tree in South Africa that’s so large it has a pub inside where 15 people can drink comfortably. Architectural marvels, including the M.C. Escher-like stepwells in India. Mind-boggling events, like the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain, where men dressed as devils literally vault over rows of squirming infants. Not to mention the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia, Turkmenistan’s 40-year hole of fire called the Gates of Hell, a graveyard for decommissioned ships on the coast of Bangladesh, eccentric bone museums in Italy, or a weather-forecasting invention that was powered by leeches, still on display in Devon, England.

Created by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, ATLAS OBSCURA revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden and the mysterious. Every page expands our sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, it is a book to enter anywhere, and will be as appealing to the armchair traveler as the die-hard adventurer.

Anyone can be a tourist. ATLAS OBSCURA is for the explorer.

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Minecraft: the Complete Handbook Collection by Stephanie Milton, Paul Soares, Jr., Jordan Maron, and Nick Farwell

Listen, I don’t get the appeal of Minecraft. I have tried to understand it, tried to play it, tried to care that it is a thing that exists in the world and I just don’t. My son, however, speaks the language fluently. And since I care deeply about him, I have learned to be grateful for these books. We try desperately to limit the screen time in our house, but I have been assured, one more than one occasion, that the engineers of tomorrow are playing Minecraft today. I’m not sure that I totally believe them, but I can’t deny my son builds some pretty cool stuff in this game. And he reads every Minecraft book he can get his hands on. So, for now at least, I’ll call that a win.

Side note: our kids are no longer allowed to watch YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft. We let them do this a few times and quickly learned that it is no bueno.

MinecraftAbout the books:

Revised edition with the most up to date stats, info, and sixteen pages of brand-new material!

Updated versions of Minecraft’s four bestselling handbooks are available in a stunning, gold-foiled boxed set! This ultimate collection includes the Essential Handbook, Redstone Handbook, Combat Handbook, and Construction Handbook. Each book now includes sixteen-addtional pages with brand-new content! Minecraft–the indie sandbox video game that took the world by storm–has been hailed as one of the greatest phenomena amongst gamers and educators for both its simplicity and its brilliance. Allowing players to build, explore, create, collaborate, and even survive, Minecraft has created a brave new world of gameplay. Each handbook contains helpful tips and information from the creators themselves, all of which will prove vital to your survival and creativity as you learn to mine, craft, and build in a world that you control.

Note: I honestly don’t understand a word in that description. My son is quite literally reading a manual. But he does so with the same devotion and patience that I read Tolkien when I was his age so it can’t be all bad.

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2017 World Almanac and Facts

Go figure. Such small print. Such random information. So much weather. This was one of a couple books I tossed in his stocking on a whim and I can’t count the number of times I’ve wandered through his bedroom (it’s attached to our bonus room) to find him reading this thing. On purpose and for fun.

AlmanacAbout the book:

Get thousands of facts at your fingertips with this essential resource.

The World Almanac® and Book of Facts is America’s top-selling reference book of all time, with more than 82 million copies sold. Since 1868, this compendium of information has been the authoritative source for all your entertainment, reference, and learning needs. The 2017 edition of The World Almanac® reviews the events of 2016 and will be your go-to source for questions on any topic in the upcoming year. Praised as a “treasure trove of political, economic, scientific and educational statistics and information” by The Wall Street Journal, The World Almanac® and Book of Facts will answer all of your trivia needs—from history and sports to geography, pop culture, and much more.
Features include:

2016—Top 10 News Topics: The editors ofThe World Almanac® list the top stories that held the world’s attention in 2016.

2016—Year in Sports: Hundreds of pages of trivia and statistics that are essential for any sports fan, featuring complete coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the 2016 World Series, and much more.

2016—Year in Pictures: Striking full-color images from around the world in 2016, covering news, entertainment, science, and sports.

2016—Offbeat News Stories: The World Almanac® editors found some of the strangest news stories of the year.

World Almanac ® Editors’ Picks: Time Capsule: The World Almanac® lists the items that most came to symbolize the year 2016, from news and sports to pop culture.

2016 Election Results: The World Almanac® provides a comprehensive look at the entire 2016 election process, from the roller coaster of the early primaries to state and county presidential voting results and coverage of House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.

The World at a Glance: This annual feature of The World Almanac® provides a quick look at the surprising stats and curious facts that define the changing world.

World Almanac ® Editors’ Picks: The Best Teams That Never Won It All: In light of Golden State’s unprecedented regular season success and eventual downfall in the NBA Finals, The World Almanac® takes a look back into sports history for the best teams that fell just short of championship glory.

Statistical Spotlight: A brand-new feature highlights statistics relevant to the biggest stories of the year. These data provide context to give readers a fresh perspective on important issues.

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Like I said, Nerd Club. But this personality quirk has become one of my absolute favorite things about him. He’s really bright and curious and he wants to understand the world around him. Also, bonus, he’s becoming a person who is really fun to talk with. And funny. Funny men are a good thing. I married one and I’m determined to raise four more.

So, on that note, I’ll leave you with this anecdote. Many years ago my now-teenage son had to write a book report on Misty of Chincoteague, the Newbery Honor book by Marguerite Henry. When asked to score the book between 1 and 10, he gave it a 3. His answer as to why he rated it the way he did made me laugh and has stuck with me ever since, “This book had lots of horses,” he said. “But what I really wanted was explosions.”

I’ve been trying to find books loaded with explosions for him ever since.

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Why I’m Not Doing A Reading Challenge in 2017, Or Possibly Ever Again

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

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I read twenty-five books in 2016. Twelve fiction and thirteen non-fiction (most of them Romanov biographies, several of them in excess of 500 pages). But, according to Goodreads and the blogosphere and various websites I “failed” at reading last year. If you were to pay attention to all the reading challenges and lists, I didn’t read “enough.” Or widely. Or with enough intention. I am, apparently a lightweight.

And I have to wonder when reading–this thing that has been one of the great loves of my life–became a competition. I wonder when speed reading two or three hundred books in a year became a badge of honor. When quantity took precedence over quality. When numbers started mattering more than joy.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t like the pressure that comes with these reading challenges that crop up every year about this time. I hate feeling like no matter how much I read, or how much I enjoy a book, I’m not doing enough. Reading enough. That I’ve left something (or someone!) on the table. That I am missing something vital.

Yes, I believe in reading widely, with intention, and outside of my comfort zone. I want to read the classics and the new hot literary thriller. I want to find new authors that have important things to say. I want to be exposed to new voices and new cultures and new stories. I want all of this. And I pursue it the best I can. But the truth is that I simply can’t keep up. There are too many amazing books being published every single day. I am overwhelmed.

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Was late reading this novel but came to it with my eyes open, knowing how it would end before I even started. I wanted to understand what all the buzz was about. And I do. I get it now. Though, if I’m being honest, I loved the sequel more. I think that Lou’s life in the aftermath of her relationship with Will was far more interesting, and easily some of Moyes’ best writing.

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Read it and weep. Literally. I dare you to pick up this book and not be gutted. One of the most moving books I read in 2016.

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Utterly gobsmacked by this one. It has set the standard for all literary thrillers going forward. I wish I could read it again for the first time. But, regardless, I’ll be reading everything else Pavone has written. Just…brilliant.

So here is the reading challenge I have given myself for 2017: read without a plan and without pressure. I will read for the love of story. I will read because a novel sounds compelling. I will read narrative non-fiction and memoir because there are people who have lived extraordinary lives and done extraordinary things and I want to know their stories. I will read because I have previously enjoyed an author and there’s a high likelihood I’ll like their next book. I will read to learn something new. I will read with intent–the intent to enjoy, to be challenged, to be delighted, and amazed by the work of another author. I will read authors that are unlike me, from places I’ve never been. I will read because I want to, not because I have to.

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I gulped down this YA thriller in less than a day. Not at all my typical kind of read but I know the author and she has a twisty brain so I guessed the book wouldn’t disappoint. It didn’t. Highly recommended. And, you’re in luck, the sequel releases soon.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve read every biography about the Romanovs written in the last thirty years. This one, however, is a masterpiece. And a doorstop. It is 600+ pages and covers the Romanov dynasty from beginning to end and is filled with enough drama and detail to inspire fifty novels.

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My friend JT Ellison wrote this novel and it’s dark and gritty and twisty while somehow being hopeful and redemptive as well. There’s so much here you’ll never see coming.

One of my favorite things about my particular job is that I have to maintain an ongoing education. I must research. I must dig through libraries and archives and used bookstores for little-known tomes about my subject matter. Because I am a writer I have had to educate myself about Jazz-era New York City, World War II zeppelins, and, now, the Russian revolution–none of them subjects I would have signed up for until I was inspired by some bit of history. I’ve read out-of-print biographies, newspapers, blueprints, memoirs, schematics, court transcripts, coffee table books, and thousands of pages of biographical information. While working on a new book I learn everything I can about my subject. And then my brain melts and the last thing I want is more information. I want a story. And that is typically the point in the process when I seek out a novel that has absolutely nothing in common with what I’m writing (I devoured two YA fantasy novels this month, and they were so good).

What I’m saying here, I suppose, is that it’s okay to read whatever you want for whatever reason motivates you and to not keep track along the way. There are no rules. Your reading counts when it’s for work and when it’s for pleasure. Novels count. Biographies count. Medical journals count. So does that Minecraft manual you’re reading so you can understand this strange new language your kid has started to speak. It’s all good. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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My first Pat Conroy novel and now a book that will forever stay on my “keeper shelf.” I still can’t really talk about how this book made me feel. It’s one of the ones that changed me and those books are few and far between.

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Lindsay Faye could write circles around me any day. She’s brilliant and clever and impossibly entertaining.

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This novel single-handedly ended my reading drought in 2016. I loved it completely. Thought about the characters–dreamed about them, actually–when I wasn’t reading. It meant so much to me, in fact, that I wrote the author when I finished.

If reading challenges are your jam, then by all means have it. Tick off those boxes to your heart’s content. Of all people, I understand the need to have accountability and a plan. No judgement here. But I probably won’t be doing them again. I’m going to take the free-spirited approach for my own sanity. I’m going to let books find me. I’m going to pluck them randomly out of the library sale pile and off the “blind date with a book” shelf at my local bookstore. I’m going to look at the pile of unsolicited books that have shown up at my house and pick the one that–on the surface–interests me least. I am going to make room in my reading life to be surprised.

And yes, you could argue that all of this is its own sort of challenge in a way. But it doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like freedom.

I’ve already read three novels this year so my guess is my numbers will be higher than 2016 (to be expected since I’m almost finished writing my new novel) but if I don’t, then I refuse to feel like I’ve failed. I might not even count this year.

What about you? How do you feel about reading challenges? Are you doing one this year? Am I just the contrarian in the group?

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The Message of La La Land

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

lala land

It should be said that I was never a skeptic. Perhaps because I had watched Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone together in Crazy Stupid Love and already knew the onscreen chemistry they would share. Perhaps because there was something shimmering and magical even in the trailer that was out months and months ago, something that made me say to myself, “I want to write a novel that makes people feel the way that trailer just made me feel.” Just the trailer. So when the movie released I was certain to see it, soon, and several times.

I didn’t have to be convinced, and yet I was still surprised by La La Land. From the vast opening number with people dancing and singing for miles, to that last look, I was captivated. But more than that I was moved by what–to me– was the message of the movie. I expected the singing, the dancing, the chemistry, the colors. I just didn’t expect the message woven into the story. Because typically musicals are for fun, not thinking. And yet, this movie has left me thinking for weeks.

What was the message? Well, I don’t want to say too much for those of you who may not’ve seen it. So I will just say this: If you have a dream (“Here’s to the ones who dream”), you should go out and do something daring. You should take a risk. You should be different, swim against the tide. You may not succeed in the way you initially envision success. But in the risk you will find success you didn’t see coming.

As a writer, I’ve played it safe and I’ve taken risks. And the risks have paid off far more than the playing it safe. Sure, the risks were scarier, bolder, more vulnerable. Sure, some have blown up in my face. But some have changed everything and that, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.

If you’ve seen the movie, this will make sense. (Or, I hope it does.) And if you haven’t seen the movie, I hope that the message of La La Land will intrigue you. Because my bet is, you have a dream. (Or, I hope you do.) And dreams, like anything, have to be fed to survive. This movie feeds dreams.

So I hope you’ll go see it. I hope you’ll get past whatever misgivings you may have about musicals, you won’t listen to the people who say they don’t like the ending (it was, after all, the ending the story demanded), and you’ll go get lost in the movie. And along the way, you’ll be inspired by the message. Inspired to go dream your own dreams and take your own risks. And occasionally, because this life demands it, break out into song.

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Flight Of Dreams: Now Available In Paperback

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

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Sometimes I forget that my books are born twice. Once, in hardcover, and then, typically, a year later, in paperback. So I’m sitting here today, at my desk, looking at the new cover for FLIGHT OF DREAMS and I’m struggling to explain how I feel. Humbled, is the best word I can find, but that doesn’t seem completely accurate. I am also amazed. And grateful. And a bit weepy for some reason.

I never really know what to say on days like this. You’ve heard all my stories; how I came up with the idea, how I met a man on book tour who had actually been inside the Hindenburg, and why I chose to write about this particular tragedy. So I will simply say, thank you.

Thank you for reading the book and writing to me afterward. Thank you for sharing your stories and your memories about this event. Thank you for telling your friends about it. Thank you for showing up in bookstores all across the country. Thank you for listening to the audiobook (didn’t John Lee do an amazing job?) and asking over and over and over if it will be turned into a film (it won’t). Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Of all the authors in all the world, I am the most fortunate.

And if you’ve not yet met Emilie, Gertrud, Max, Werner, and The American, it would be my honor to introduce you. FLIGHT OF DREAMS is out in paperback today and ready to meet a whole new group of readers.

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“At every page a guilty secret bobs up; at every page Lawhon keeps us guessing. Who will bring down the Hindenburg? And how?”
— New York Times Book Review

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

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My Top Books of 2016

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Annnnd, we’re back! Though I have to say I don’t feel like we ever went away. For me, the word “break” was a misnomer over this particular Christmas holiday. Between trips and get-togethers and ill-timed deadlines and illness, the last month has been a whirlwind. In that way, I think my whole family was happy to get back into more of a routine with school starting again and a new year to dive into.

However you celebrated– whether you feel rested or not– we are glad you’re back with us, and we hope you’ll keep coming back this year, as we’ve got some fun things planned!

I wanted to share a rundown of my favorite books from this year. Listed in no certain order, except the last one, which was my favorite of this year!

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher– quirky, unexpected, sweet

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes– inspiring, informative, funny

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley– gripping, tense, well written– couldn’t put it down

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney– characters who stayed with me long after the story was over, gorgeous writing

It’s Ok To Laugh by Nora Mcinnerney Purmort– cried my way through it, even with all the crying, still glad I read it

Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand– it’s not summer without her stories and this one didn’t disappoint

Faithful by Alice Hoffman– reactivated my love of this author and had me going back to read her older stuff

The Girls by Emma Cline– dark, gorgeous, disturbing

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon– loved, loved, loved it on audio, read by the author, as it should be

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty– anything by our #ReadSavannah keynote author gets my vote

And #1…

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins– Maybe it’s just because I’m a child of the 80’s and a huge fan, but this one moved me, surprised me, and had me thinking about it anytime I wasn’t listening to it. And yes, I said listening. I think that the audio version of this book is the only way to experience it. Because Phil himself reads it, so you hear it exactly how he meant it to be rendered on the page. I was more than a little sad that it was over. And I’m jealous of any of you who haven’t had the pleasure.

Later in the week Ariel will share her favorite books of 2016 too (Except there won’t be as many because she’s a slow-poke and braindead and on deadline…says Ariel herself, who edits this blog and all the posts and loves to have the final word…Hi guys, glad to be back!).

2016 was a wonderful reading year– and 2017 is shaping up to be another one! Keep checking back with for more great books you’re not going to want to miss. And we apologize if your TBR stack starts looking like this! #sorrynotsorry

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What We’re Into: (Belated) November 2016 Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen, Ariel Lawhon, & Rachel Corbet Reece | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon & @RachelCReece

Well, friends, it’s time for us to take our annual Christmas break. It’s tradition for us to shutter the blog during the month of December so we can intentionally celebrate the Advent season. Granted, this year it feels as though we pulled the curtains a bit early, but, what with Marybeth’s injury and two soul-crushing deadlines we didn’t have much of a choice. Thanks for your patience on that count! We’ll be back on January 9th with a whole new website and a bunch of fun announcements–not the least of which is information on our next live event (New Orleans anyone?). Until then, please hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And of course we’re all active on our personal accounts as well.

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Marybeth

Christmas novels. This time of year makes me want a good cozy love story with Christmasy elements. This year Christmas Joy by Nancy Naigle and What Light by Jay Asher are currently on my nightstand. I’ve also got numbers of Hallmark movies in my DVR.

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Nature Valley Biscuits with Almond Butter are my current “running out the door but need to grab something to eat so I don’t faint” food item. A nutritionist I am not but the fact that these are made by Nature Valley and have the words “almond butter” on the package means I feel good about eating them. Don’t tell me if they’re terrible for me.

Inkwell Press LiveWELL Planner. If you follow me on Instagram you already know about my planner obsession. Though I’m still loving all things traveler’s notebooks, my most recent planner love is for the Inkwell Press LiveWELL Planner for 2017, mainly because of the way Tonya, the founder, has devoted space for both the year and each individual month to goal setting. Nothing like wrapping up one year and turning towards another to make me start setting goals like a madwoman. (If you’d like to order one, use this link to save $10 off your purchase!)

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Ariel

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The paperback version of FLIGHT OF DREAMS. Yes, I know, technically I’ve been into this book all year. But it’s coming out in paperback on January 10th so it’s front and center in my mind again. And here she is with a new cover! I love, love, love that they used an illustration of the actual smoking room on board the Hindenburg.

Vacation. Not something we really get to do. Life with four kids is crazy expensive. But my husband and I had been saving to go on a trip for our anniversary in January. Then we stumbled across a fluke deal where the six of us could go to Cozumel for what it would have cost for my husband and I to go alone. So we packed everyone up the week before Thanksgiving and flew them off to a tropical island and I have no words for how utterly perfect it was. So many firsts for the kids. First time on a plane. First time to snorkel. First time to play hooky from school. First time to try crazy new foods like calamari and paella. It make be the only time we get to take a trip like this, but if so, I will be always grateful because I could not have asked for anything more.

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Burt’s Bees Lipstick. I’ve used their tinted chapstick for years but a random trip down the cosmetics aisle last month came with the realization that they are now making lipstick as well. SOLD! I’ve already bought Suede Splash and Scarlet Soaked and have used them every day.

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Rachel Corbett Reece (the new face around here)

(A quick note from Ariel. Our good friend, Rachel Corbett Reece, joined the She Reads team earlier this year. She’s been helping coordinate the blog network but will be taking on a greater role with the website and with our monthly selections. She’s funny and brilliant and one of our all-time favorite people. Rachel is a writter, a university lecturer, and connosuer of all things Southern. Please give her a warm welcome!)

Bubbles. No, not champagne, Bai Bubbles sparkling antioxidant drinks. Fruity-fresh tasting, 5 calories per can, and I’ve yet to find a favor I don’t like. I’ve taken to ordering them by the case from Amazon. Some people use them as mixers with rum or vodka, but I just drink them over ice in a goblet. They are pretty colored too. 

Christmas Movies. Every year I spend a few weeks watching sappy, feel-good Christmas movies with glee. They follow a similar plot: a single, female, big-city executive has a case or a cause that leads her out to a small, quaint town where she must work to save the lighthouse/family shop/horse ranch/Christmas tree farm and she falls in love in the process. Last week I watched this troupe with a twist – her love interest was a ghost. If you’re wondering how that worked out, see The Spirit of Christmas on Netflix.

Future Me. I have this quirk about “Current Rachel” asking “Future Rachel” what she will think about the decision I’m about to make. (I use those names with myself.) Sometimes I feel a little crazy admitting this. Then I discovered FutureMe.org where people write their future-self an email and set it to be delivered to them on a specific date. Current Rachel now gets to talk to Future Rachel in the future about things she thinks she should do. Current Rachel is so happy to finally have a way to tell Future Rachel what to do, instead of the other way around. (Ok, maybe I am slightly crazy.)

Warmly – Current Rachel

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Two New Crime-Solving YA Titles

Today’s post by Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? It just seems like the perfect thing to curl up with on a cold weekend day. I’ve been excited by a few crime/mystery based novels in recent weeks, and while one is great for younger audiences, the other is most definitely reserved for upper high school and college students.

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shelby-holmesThe Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

I am always, always, always up for a good Sherlock Holmes retelling, and Eulberg’s Shelby Holmes story is a perfect middle grade entry into the Sherlock world. In it, Shelby Holmes is a 9 year old sixth grader with all the brains, sass, and social awkwardness you’d expect from a character based on Sherlock, and John Watson has just moved into the building. John, whose military parents have just gone through a divorce, is in need of new friends and sort of falls into Shelby’s crime solving world when a classmate of theirs discovers that her prize-winning dog has been stolen. Shelby and John are both well-written characters who work together in their own quirky ways, and they have depth to them that goes far beyond the crime to be solved. With John’s family situation and Shelby’s trouble making friends, there’s plenty here for readers to identify with and cheer the characters through. The mystery itself is both clever enough to be worthy of a 9 year-old Holmes and solvable enough for a middle grade audience. The Great Shelby Holmes would be perfect for readers as young as 4th grade and I can see its appeal going up through middle school. Also, for those adults (like me!) who love Sherlockian literature, it’s a really fun look into the classic characters as modern day kids. Elizabeth confirmed for me that there will be at least two more Shelby Holmes books, and I’m already looking forward to them!

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wreckedWrecked by Maria Padian

This book features an entirely different kind of crime – a rape that takes place on a college campus. The way it’s told, though, is through the eyes of Haley and Richard, the roommates of the two involved in the sexual assault, which gives the story a mysterious quality as the roommates try to figure out what really happened that night. When Haley and Richard happen meet each other and start dating, they don’t even realize that they’re both connected to the rape incident because, in their role as roommates of the two involved, they’re not allowed to talk about it with anyone else. The story isn’t just focused on the rape, though, as Haley and Richard get to know each other and start dating, there’s a fun contemporary romance element too. The knowledge of what sexual assault is has a way of becoming more real when it actually happens to someone close to you, so it’s interesting to go through that process Haley and Richard and see how it impacts their dating relationship. The whole story may sound convoluted and confusing, but Padian crafts the story very well. Wrecked is intriguing and thought-provoking; I feel like this should be a must read for students getting ready to go off to college. It would also make a great starting point for discussion about this topic with anyone wanting to explore it more.

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