THE ALMOST SISTERS, by Joshilyn Jackson, is one of our summer book club selections. It releases tomorrow and if you were on the fence about picking up your copy, we think this book trailer and Joshilyn’s moving essay on privilege, second chances, and racial identity will convince you. It might be the best thing you read all day.
Author Archive | Ariel
The signs of summer are upon us. The weather is warm and the air is heavy with the scent of chlorine and sun screen. My (Ariel) house is filled with children again and there are piles of shoes by the front door. We haven’t used our alarm clocks in almost two weeks. The grocery stores are stocked with strawberries and watermelons and crates of cheap popsicles. And–most importantly–the neighborhood pool is finally open!
I’m not sure about you, but this particular winter and spring were rather grueling for Marybeth and me. We both had ferocious deadlines (good news, though, we both have new novels coming soon!). I had pneumonia. She traveled a lot. My boys had an intense baseball season (80+ games in two months). And then, of course, came the end of school activities. Tests. Award ceremonies. Band concerts. Choir concerts. Class parties. Parades. Teacher meetings. It’s enough to snap any woman in half. And while I’ve crossed the finish line, Marybeth still has a short way to go before her summer officially begins. One thing I can tell you for sure, however, we’re both ready to stop and relax. We are ready to spend our days reading once again.
Which is why we’re so excited to announce our summer book club selections today! We spent a lot of time reading this spring, looking for three captivating, unputdownable books to recommend this summer. And we were not disappointed! All three of our selections come from established, beloved authors. All three of them are perfect poolside reads. All three of them will take you somewhere new–literally and emotionally. So swing by your local Indie bookseller and add one of them (or even better, all three!) to your beach bag. And don’t forget to stop by here throughout the summer as well. We’ll be visiting with each of these authors between now and August.
THE BOOK OF SUMMER by Michelle Gable
From the New York Times Bestselling Author of A Paris Apartment
The ocean, the wild roses on the dunes and the stunning Cliff House, perched atop a bluff in Sconset, Nantucket. Inside the faded pages of the Cliff House guest book live the spellbinding stories of its female inhabitants: from Ruby, a bright-eyed newlywed on the eve of World War II to her granddaughter Bess, who returns to the beautiful summer estate.
For the first time in four years, physician Bess Codman visits the compound her great-grandparents built almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Bess must now put aside her complicated memories in order to pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave. It’s not just memories of her family home Bess must face though, but also an old love that might hold new possibilities.
In the midst of packing Bess rediscovers the forgotten family guest book. Bess’s grandmother and primary keeper of the book, Ruby, always said Cliff House was a house of women, and by the very last day of the very last summer at Cliff House, Bess will understand the truth of her grandmother’s words in ways she never imagined.
BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate
Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.
Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.
**Read an excerpt of BEFORE WE WERE YOURS here.
THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson
With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.
Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.
For me April was a month of travel— a week at lovely Sunset Beach NC with our kids for spring break and a quick four days in Cabo San Lucas for my husband’s company. So I can start off by saying I was into the ocean this month. How could you not be with views like this?
Aside from travel, I was also into reading. I did more reading in April than I’ve done in past months. I enjoyed the novels HOW WILL I KNOW YOU by Jessica Treadway, BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman and THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson.
In April I was into Easter, of course. We had a relaxing and fun Easter Sunday as a family at church and at a local restaurant for lunch after. I didn’t have to cook which was the first year ever– and is something I plan to repeat! I also got a photo of all 6 of my kids in one place. Now that they’re older that is quite rare and very special.
Time with author friends— twice this month I got to hang out with fellow local authors, which is both fun and inspiring. Pictured are Kim Wright (author of Last Ride To Graceland), Erika Marks (author of The Last Treasure) and Sarah Creech (author of the forthcoming Whole Way Home).
I was into planners, which is nothing new. But this month I tried the B6 size of traveler’s notebook and I think it’s going to end up being my favorite size to plan in. It’s 5X7– just small enough to be portable, just large enough to be able to write in comfortably. I currently have five inserts in my traveler’s notebook: monthly, weekly, daily, lists, and on the go notes.
(Don’t know what traveler’s notebooks are? That’s ok. I didn’t either. I suggest going on You Tube and putting “traveler’s notebook” in the search bar. Warning: There’s a lot there to watch. My apologies for the lost days of your life.)
I’m also still using my bullet journal. I call it my “notes on life” book– the place where I take notes on things I find online, podcasts I listen to, quotes I come across, thoughts on writing projects– whatever’s on my mind that I don’t want to forget. Together, these two implements are helping me stay (somewhat) on top of things.
I was also into the cover of my new novel, which I can finally show you guys! We will be revealing the cover in the next day or so– so please come back if you’re curious!
Field Trips. I went with my nine-year-old to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing! I’ll be honest, I have, historically, been a total failure in the area of chaperoning field trips. They’re so exhausting and I’m always in the middle of a big project. But I made myself carve out time for this one and I’m so glad I did. My son was elated that I went with his class. And honestly, I loved every moment. We saw every conceivable type of fish in some of the most stunning exhibits you can imagine. We were ambushed by a sting ray. We saw Wild Africa in IMAX. We played with butterflies. Also, I am now completely obsessed with jellyfish. (as you can see from my instagram account)
Edits. What can I say, writing a novel wouldn’t be so hard if it wasn’t so daily. You have to show up, at your desk every day. And then the next day. And the next. Until it’s done. Only it’s not done because then you have edits. Then line edits. Then copy edits. Then first pass pages. And sometimes, second pass pages as well. This is what we sign up for when we decide to be novelists. And this particular novel–I WAS ANASTASIA–is forcing me to work harder than I’ve ever worked on anything in my life (I’ll share more about that in the near future). And this is a good thing. I have grown as a writer because of every long, hard day invested in this book.
Baseball. Have I mentioned that all four of my boys play baseball? Well, they do. Which means that twice a year we go into full baseball mode around here. Like, watch 80+ games in two months kind of baseball mode. On a practical level that means we eat a lot of sandwiches and crock pot meals and concession stand hot dogs. I’m not gonna lie, it’s bedlam. But my gosh, I love it. There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a warm spring night (and all day Saturday) than the bleachers cheering on my guys. That said, I won’t lie: “rainout” is my new favorite word.
Reading for pleasure (instead of for work). Now that I’m no longer in research mode for my Romanov novel, I’m enjoying reading for fun again. Earlier this year I read the first two books in Sarah J. Maas’ A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES series and enjoyed them immensely. I’m saving book three, which released this week, as my reward for finishing edits on my own novel in a couple weeks. My to-be-read piles are toppling over but that’s okay because a reading life is a happy life.
My Bullet Journal. I’m not what you’d call the organized type. But man, I really love my bullet journal. Marybeth harassed me for almost a year and I finally gave in and started one last summer. Life-changing sounds very cliche. But I don’t know how else to describe the way this has affected my day-to-day life. Between deadlines and baseball and end of year activities, my bullet journal has made sure that I don’t let anything fall through the cracks. Amen and amen.
The weather is growing warm again. The sun is beginning to make regular appearances. Flowers are budding. And we are back with two fabulous book club selections. Yes, it’s been a while but we like to think these two books are worth the wait. One of them is by an all-time favorite author and the other a debut. Both are beautifully written. Captivating. Memorable. Both explore the dynamics of love and family. Both will leave you with your heart in your throat. You will go for a voyage on the famed Queen Mary and then you will search for a missing husband. You will, we believe, be unable to look away as these stories unfold before you.
So, without further ado, we give you our spring book club selections:
Wartime intrigue spans the lives of three women—past and present—in the latest novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life.
February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Résistance spy.
Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark…
Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings.
Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always.
They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.
So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.
Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.
Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.
It’s no secret that any thriller worth its salt is built on lies and we’ve found three upcoming novels by three of our favorite authors that master the art of deceit. Make sure you add these three books to your reading list.
LIE TO ME by J.T. Ellison
Domestic noir at its best. Readers will devour this stunning page-turner about the disintegration of a marriage as grief, jealousy, betrayal and murder destroy the facade of the perfect literary couple. New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison takes her exceptional writing to a new level with this breakout novel.
They built a life on lies
Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.
Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.
ONE PERFECT LIE by Lisa Scottoline
On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.
But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.
Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.
Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Justin’s baseball games. But Justin is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.
Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.
At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?
Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.
EVERY LAST LIE by Mary Kubica
New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche.
Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.
Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.
Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.
Our guest reviewer today is Chelsea Humphrey, a member of our blog and social media network and a wonderful, smart, bookish friend. Please give her a warm welcome and then grab a box of tissues. We feel certain her review of Amy Hatvany’s new novel, IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, will grab you by the throat.
“I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.”
Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.
Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.
What happens next will change them forever.
If I’m being completely honest, this is the hardest review I’ve written. I’m going to stop right here and preface two things: 1) If you are wanting to go into this book completely blind (though I’m not sure how you would if you’ve seen any marketing for it yet) then stop right here. I’m not going to spoil the read, but I will be delving into the content matter a bit and wanted to give fair warning. 2) If you have a rape trigger, I normally advise against reading rape-related material, but if you’ve ever been a victim of sexual assault I’d highly encourage you to read this. Hopefully it’ll bring you some of the comfort you may never have received from your close ones at your lowest points.
“Violators cannot live with the truth; survivors cannot live without it.”
– Chrystine Oksana
I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face and snot pouring out my nose because I realized I’ve been searching for this book for the past decade; this coming October 20 will mark 10 years since the night I was raped. As difficult as it is to put those words to paper, it’s in the hope that I can reach someone who is silently suffering from a similar situation that needs an anchor. My intention is not to make this review about my experience or go into intricate detail; however, I want to establish the foundation of why this book is so necessary for women like myself. The media for years has pummeled our society with the notion that rape is a rare occurrence and only is acknowledged in the most brutal of circumstances. While film and literature tend to portray rape as only happening at the hands of serial killers, kidnappers, and psychopaths, most women are actually assaulted by someone they know, not a stranger. I spent many years questioning the validity of my own assault because my attacker was a “good guy”; he had always been kind to people and never once given the impression he was a monster of this sort. This book addresses that more realistic and messy type of situation and helped ease some of the confusion I had struggled with for years.
Consent– it is the entire foundation for Hatvany’s latest novel. I can already tell this book will ruffle some feathers and bring up all kinds of discussion and controversy amongst it’s readers. The plot revolves around Amber and Tyler; Amber is the only “miracle” child of her over protective parents (I could easily relate to this being an only child myself and the product of 10 years of trying to conceive after being told having children might not happen for my parents). She’s been shouldering the weight of feeling like she must succeed in everything to make up for the lack of other children her parents were unable have. Tyler moves in next door and becomes the older brother Amber never had; together they help each other through some extremely dark times, and although Tyler has always harbored feelings of more than friendship for Amber, she has never seen him as anything more than a brother. Enter here the controversy of consent. Without spoiling the read, we come to a point many years later that stops the reader in their tracks to consider their own belief on where consent lies.
All in all, this is the type of story that crosses genre barriers and holds us accountable for our views and how we treat victims. While this is a story about the attack and it’s ripple effect of consequences, it’s also a story of hope and redemption. Is it possible for someone to commit an unthinkable act and change? Can healing take place between two parties when this level of violation has occurred? I love how this book didn’t make it easy for the reader; there are no clear cut answers or magical happy endings. The reality of the attack altering Amber’s life forever is something all victims can relate to; while it is possible to work through the side effects (anxiety, depression, fear, and self-loathing) with therapy and sometimes medication, there’s never a fix all cure that can take back that horrible event. This book did, however, present the right questions that we as a society need to consider as we continually see rape cases being paraded across the media in a trivial fashion. If you are looking for a book that will grab your heart and cause you to think about some really tough, but timely issues, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Amy chose to limit the graphic violence and sexual scenes; the rape scene is really a very small portion but I believe this made the book all the more powerful and readable while being less showy for the shock value. This is a story that will stay with me for years to come; I’m so proud of the author for sharing via social media her own experience with being assaulted at a young age, her drive to help overcome the stigma surrounding rape, and encouraging the support of victims everywhere.
*Many thanks to the author and publisher for providing my copy and the platform so that I would have the ability to share my own experience.
**If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help; secrets and trauma can only control you if kept alone and in the dark. I’ve included some national hotlines with resources to help victims of all kinds of sexual assault:
National Sexual Assault Hotline
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline]
Self Injury Hotline
Chelsea Humphrey is a happily married mother of two whose love of mysteries can be traced back to her first Nancy Drew experience. When not reading and writing book reviews, she likes to drink wine in her jammies and pretend that she exercises. Her blog is www.thesuspenseisthrillingme.com
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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