Author Archive | Ariel

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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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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?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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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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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

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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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.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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Three Ways To Protect Your Workspace

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

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For six months I’ve had a sticky note attached to my laptop that reads: Protect Your Workspace. At some point, when I’m comfortable with the idea, I’ll tell you the story of what prompted me to do this. But what I can say at the moment is that the ‘workspace’ I’m referring to is not my office. It’s my mind. The novel I’m currently working on is the first I’ve ever written in an actual office. The others were constructed in coffee shops and car pool lines, on legal pads and MacBooks, and on any flat surface in my home that wasn’t littered with Legos or used Band-Aids. But the workspace itself is always the same regardless of my physical location: that curious, bright, private space inside my skull. It has taken me a long time to realize that this workspace should be protected with the same vigilance that I protect my home and my family. And I’ve discovered a few key ways to make sure it doesn’t get invaded or destroyed along the way.

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I decide what gets in. I try not to work while my children are at home or awake. But that’s the ideal, not the reality, and I frequently have to sequester myself away to get something done at night or on the weekends. And when that happens, I literally hang a sign in my office that says ‘No Soliciting.’ My children routinely ignore it but I point and remind them anyway because they are young and need to understand that I have a job and they must respect the time and space required to perform that job. The same principle is true with the internet (or text messages or clickbait or the doorbell for that matter). I get to decide who I let into my workspace and when. (Bickering people on the internet? Nope. Sorry. You can’t come in.) I’ve taught my children from the time they were tiny that if we don’t know someone we don’t open the door for them. It isn’t rude to protect yourself. So these days I regularly turn off the wi-fi and silence my phone so that I can actively engage in deep work.

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I practice radical self-care. Anne Lamott coined the phrase but the older I get, the more I realize how important this is. To do my particular job, my mind has to function at a high level. I have to think high concept and embrace tiny details at the same time. Writing a novel is like juggling chainsaws: it requires your full attention. So, for me, that means I have to get enough sleep. (I’m an eight hours a night minimum kind of girl) I’ve started doing yoga because all that sitting is really bad for my joints. I’ve started making myself eat a high-protein breakfast every single day because I can’t afford that late-afternoon brain collapse. I’m eating less sugar. I’m running again. I’m spending very little time on social media but a lot of time with the real people in my real life. I’m taking care of me so that my workspace isn’t cluttered or exhausted or anxious.

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I’m only reading for fun right now. It’s amazing how reading can become a job. Just ask any writer or librarian or bookseller or book blogger. We all get into this business because we’re nerds and we love books. Reading is our first love. And then something happens, somewhere along the line, and we look up one day and realize that we’re utterly dreading the to-read pile. It’s become homework. So I decided I won’t do it anymore. I will read for the simple pleasure of reading. Not to check anything off my list or to complete a reading challenge or to fulfill an obligation. I am reclaiming this quiet, simple joy as something that is mine and not another way to participate in social media or cultural conversation. I’m taking it back and this, more than anything else, is helping protect my workspace.

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My husband is a contractor. And one of my good friends is a photographer. So I realize not all professions work the way that mine does. Writing is unique in that regard: we spend more time inside our own minds that most people. However, I am convinced that the mind is the primary workspace for everyone. So I’m curious about what you do for a living and how you protect your own workspace for maximum productivity. Share below! I’m always looking for new ways to grow in this area.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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The Epigraph That Wasn’t

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

ttwwwtI had the epigraph (the little quote that you see in the beginning of a book that kind of sums up or gives a clue as to the themes or issues in the book) all picked out for my novel THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE long before I finished the book. It was so perfect, I couldn’t wait to have it set the tone for my novel.

Alas, my new publisher had some serious rules about acquiring permissions for use of a short line and I will admit I didn’t leave enough time to track down said permissions. When I got the detailed questionnaire I would have to fill out for the permission to use a mere eight words, I said to myself, “Welp this’ll just have to be the first novel I write that doesn’t have an epigraph.”

But I wanted to share it with someone because it is so perfect and it should be shared. So I chose you guys, our dear and wonderful readers, to share my perfect epigraph that never saw the light of day. Ready? Here it is…

“Happiness ain’t never how you think it should be.”

  Duncan Sheik, She Runs Away

Thank you for letting me do that. 🙂

This epigraph really is the perfect tone setter for my novel. Because that’s really what it is about– a group of disparate neighbors who are all nursing their own private hurts, their own deeply held secrets, their own irrepressible hope that maybe– just maybe– they can find happiness– or some form of it, somehow. Because I believe that while happiness might not be what we think, it is still possible to find. In this month of November as we count our blessings, maybe this novel’s characters will inspire you to find happiness in your own backyard.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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What We’re Into: October 2016 Edition

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

Ariel Lawhon

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The Momentum Extension for Chrome. I’ve been using this for about eight months thanks to the suggestion from my friend J.T. Ellison. Here’s how it works: when you open a new tab a gorgeous photo appears. At the bottom is an inspirational quote. (Mine is currently a panoramic view of Zion National Park in Utah and this quote from Joseph Campbell,“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”) In the middle of the screen is the time, a message that says “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Ariel,” and a prompt that asks, “What is Your Main Focus For Today.” Once you answer that question, Momentum will remind you of your focus for that day in the seconds before it loads a new page. It’s a gentle, inspiring kick in the pants. Because I need one every single day. It’s free and easy and I love it.

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The Wunderlist app from Google. Again, JT gets the credit for introducing me to this handy, helpful tool. It’s basically an app that you can sync to all your devices that helps you keep your brain together. Until I found Wunderlist my office was littered with lists and post-it-notes and notecards and scraps of paper with all the things I need to do. But with this app I can keep everything in one place and cross things off in real time. This is a lifesaver for the organizationally challenged. Also free and easy and yes, I love it.

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#READ Savannah. Yes, it happened last month. But we never gave you a recap because things got a little crazy before we even left Savannah. Here’s the nutshell version: the event was sold out and was utterly perfect. Savannah was gorgeous. We met Liane Moriarty (pronounced LEE-ahn, who knew?) and she was also perfect. We had pear cider. We met Amy Einhorn, editor of bestsellers like The Help and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, not to mention all of Liane’s bestselling novels. We met many of you, and you were better than perfect–you were smart and funny and charming. We hung out with some truly amazing authors. And then, on our last morning, Marybeth broke her hand. It was a fluke accident but it’s had devastating consequences and she’s not been able to use her right hand since. Thus the reason we’ve been running at half speed and have been, mostly, out of pocket. She’s on the mend, but slowly, and it hasn’t been fun.

My social media hiatus. The last few weeks away from social media have been…relaxing. I’ve gotten a lot done on my book. We’ve finished baseball season as a family. I feel quiet and content and grateful. Highly recommended.

Running. It’s fabulous, effective old school torture. Nothing beats hitting the pavement for an hour and clearing your head.

Marybeth Whalen

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McCafe pumpkin spice keurigs— I’ve tried several different brands but this one tastes best. I’m one of those people who go crazy for all things pumpkin spice in the fall.

Sheaffer told me to: this woman is inspiring me to up my wardrobe game. I love her style and suggestions.

My travelers notebook in pocket size with field notes inserts. I have an insert for writing, She Reads, random stuff, journaling, monthly, and weekly to help me keep track of everything going on in my life– keeping it all separate but in the same place. I love decking it out with fall dashboards and paperclips. If you’re curious about travelers notebooks I encourage you to search Instagram and YouTube. My apologies if you fall down the planner video rabbit hole like I have.

I read several forthcoming books that you should put on your radar: The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian, Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser, Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia, And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman.

My book was picked by Redbook magazine as one of 20 brand new thrillers to get you psyched for Halloween. And made Deep South magazine’s fall/winter reading list.

On Tv… You’re never too old to hear “I got a rock” from Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin special. My husband and I are loving This Is Us. We also binge watched the BBC series Marcella on Netflix over the weekend when Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. Warning: It’s really gripping but not for the faint of heart.

I saw The Light Between Oceans and found the movie just beautiful and the novel rendered accurately but it was a bit slow. We saw Girl on the Train and thought it was also a good book-to-movie adaptation.

We enjoyed some perfect little fall getaways— one to Windy Hill Orchard in York SC and a weekend in gorgeous Southport NC.

What have you been into this month?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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Why It’s Easier To Critique Than Create

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

"Jazz Quartet" by Emily Allison

“Jazz Quartet” by Emily Allison

This piece of art hangs behind the couch in my living room. It looks like a painting but is, in fact, something called “tin collage.” What that means is that my mother (the artist) took dozens of those old Christmas cookie tins that people toss out indiscriminately, deconstructed them into slivers of wicked-sharp tin, and turned them into something breathtaking. This is a literal example of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. It is called “Jazz Quartet” and is one of my most treasured possessions. It will hang in my home as long as I have a home.

Creating this piece of art cost my mother a great deal. Yes, she had to buy the supplies, but the real cost came elsewhere. Time. She spent endless hours bent over her work table piecing it together. Injury. Working with cut tin is not a low-risk proposition. You should see the scars on her hands. Creative energy. It is exhausting to take nothing (i.e. bits of discarded metal) and turn it into something (art). Commitment. She saw it through to the end. Exposure. Once complete, she handed it over for public consumption and critique.

My favorite chair in the house sits directly across from this piece of art so I spend a good deal of time looking at it. And this morning, long before the sun came up, I realized something important: part of why I love this Jazz Quartet so much is because I know the cost involved in creating it. I know the artist, so I am intimately acquainted with her intricate, laborious process. But I am also a person who creates things for a living so I understand, at a basic level, that long before this was a finished piece of art, it was a pile of chaos consuming her studio.

I understand how overwhelming that can be. Every book begins as a pile of chaos inside an author’s mind.

And every author who embraces that chaos and sees it through to the end is an artist.

I forget this sometimes because it so much easier to critique than create. Yes, there is absolutely a place for critique within the arts. And yes, I critique all the time myself. (Never in pubic–I have too much skin in the game and too much respect for authors in general.) But I don’t know that my critique is fair because I will often give up on a book far too early. I am a chronic book-quitter.

But here’s another thing I realized this morning while sipping coffee and enjoying the silence: when I find myself becoming a chronic-quitter who critiques the work of others too easily and too often, it’s always because I haven’t created anything of my own recently. I have forgotten how hard it is to take nothing and turn it into something.

The simple truth is that critique costs us nothing. Creativity, however, is pricey.

My ability to deeply appreciate the work of others is directly related to my own levels of creative output.

So, my challenge to myself, and to you, on this lovely fall day, is to begin paying attention. If you find yourself in a reading slump, I encourage you to make something. It doesn’t have to be a book. Maybe bake a pie. Or knit a shawl. Or start a bullet journal. Allow yourself to feel the frustration of the creative process. My guess is that you’ll be more likely to enjoy the next novel you pick up.

Let me know if you take the challenge! It works for me every time.

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Interested in this subject? Try reading CREATIVITY INC by by Ed Catmul

creativity-incFrom Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story, comes an incisive book about creativity in business and leadership—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Fast Company raves that Creativity, Inc. “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever.”

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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Four Novels That Will Satisfy Your Inner Nosy Neighbor

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

How well do we know our neighbors? This seems to be a question a lot of us are asking ourselves, based on the new novels we’ve been seeing. I think this theme is largely due to our voyeuristic society– all of us cyber peeking into each other’s lives thanks to Instagram, Facebook, and Periscope. But what are these women showing us… and what are they hiding? This concept comes up consistently in the books below– so if this is a theme that fascinates you… we advise getting them all and satisfying your inner nosy neighbor all the way into fall.

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girls-in-the-gardenTHE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN

“Faithful to the thriller genre, Jewell makes liberal use of red herrings and plot twists… The answer to the whodunit is a sly—and satisfying—surprise.” —New York Times Book Review

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

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ttwwwtTHE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE

In an idyllic small-town neighborhood, a near tragedy triggers a series of dark revelations.

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

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tmgTRULY MADLY GUILTY

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

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perfect-neighborsTHE PERFECT NEIGHBORS

How well do you ever really know the family next door?
Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US. It’s also one of the most secret-filled.Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs, she’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear that Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS and the forthcoming HINDENBURG (both published by Doubleday).

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