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The Impatient Character

My biggest reading surprise of 2011 came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008, I somehow managed to miss this novel until last summer when my family took a 1500 mile road trip. I packed five novels in the hopes that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I’ve ever read. She says something in the novel that felt so familiar to me that I’ve never forgotten it:

My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people anxious for life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, 'Me next! Go on! My turn!’ I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others lie quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of the story, and the clamor starts up again.

I have experienced that demanding character, but never so intensely as while finishing my recent novel, The Rule of Three.

For months a new story had been nagging at me, creeping in during those moments when my mind was quiet. A long shower. That stretch of thought before drifting off to sleep. The dream that comes in the stillness before waking.

I recall writing a scene from my newly finished novel. It was a particularly tense argument between my Hero (her name is Stella) and Opponent that took place in an old, Jazz-era bar. There they were, leaning across the table in a dark, corner booth, both of them reaching for a tattered envelope containing a long-kept secret. I paused for a moment, fingers lightly touching the keyboard as I mulled a piece of dialogue. And then…

In the far corner of the bar was a woman delivering a baby! Of all the strange and bizarre things, the character in my next novel had walked into my current novel and set up shop. I could see it in my mind, like a fuzzy TV station that’s been caught between two channels, superimposing one face, one story, over another.

Vida describes that sensation best:

And every so often, through all these writing years, I have lifted my head from the page—at the end of a chapter, or in the quiet pause for thought after a death scene, or sometimes just searching for the right word—and have seen a face at the back of the crowd.

I knew who this character was, of course. Her name is Martha. She’s a midwife. A mother. A diarist. A strong and capable woman if ever there was one. But in that moment she was an intruder. So I gave Martha her own notebook. I scratched down what she was frantically trying to tell me, and I politely escorted her from the premises. Then I shook off her specter and went back to the bar, and my characters bent in heated conversation.

The scene turned out well in case you’re wondering. As did the rest of the novel. But now it’s done. My mind, so battered after wrestling that story to the page, is finally rested. And Martha has renewed her protests, filling all that recently vacated space. It’s her turn. Tomorrow I will open her notebook.

There are other faces in the shadows behind Martha of course. A carpenter. A hoarder. A tattoo artist. They are waiting patiently. For now.

Question for you: What was your biggest 'reading surprise’ of the last year?

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Young Adult Fiction – It’s Not Just For The Kiddies Anymore (repost)

**Note: we originally published this post on October 17th, 2011 but it was so good that we thought it deserved another turn around the interwebz.

Please welcome funny girl and Young Adult author, Jenny B. Jones, as she shares a little about the world of YA fiction. And grab a pen and paper because you’ll want to run to the book store and stock up on a number of titles (for yourself AND the young reader in your life) when you’re finished reading. Trust me, I own half the books she mentions. They’re among my all time favorites.

Young Adult Author Jenny B. Jones

Thanks to mega-authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer,   young adult fiction has been flying off the shelves and into the hands of…adults. According to the New York Times and surveys by the Codex Group, forty-seven percent of 18-24 year-old women report most of their book purchases are YA. Says the author of the article “The Kids’ Books Are All Right,” Pamela Paul, the percentage of YA fans ages 25-44 has almost doubled in the past four years.

If you haven’t picked up a YA novel since you learned how to be a fourth grade nothing, read through the files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, or wondered if God was ever going to be there for a girl named Margaret, you are missing out. But fear not–there’s time to catch up.

Citing reasons such as fast pace, great characterization, and a whole world of plots, adults have helped many YA books reach the best seller lists. So what’s the fuss all about? If you need a little help in knowing where to start, allow me to do a little book chat.


1. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. This is actually book two in a series (book one is A Long Way From Chicago), but you need not have read the others to enjoy Down Yonder. I read this years ago, and it remains one of my top three favorite books of all time. Think you might be too old for this middle level book about life in the Depression? I made my Grandmother read it. Her response after reading? “Bring me the next book.” This book has heart, humor, Peck’s amazing way with words, and some of the best characters you’ll ever find.



2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. According to the New York Times, about half the Hunger Games fans on Facebook are adults. I’ve seen some of the Hollywood elite even tweeting about this series. Set in the future, after the U.S. has fallen apart, this is the story of Katniss. When her sister draws the short stick in a lottery to play in the Hunger Games, Katniss gives the ultimate sacrifice and takes her place. Survivor has nothing on the Hunger Games, and we read as Katniss braves one challenge after another, trying to stay alive. Not exactly a Judy Blume book, but the series hasn’t sold a bajillion copies for nothing.


3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A Printz Honor book, starred review by Library Journal, and New York Times bestseller, this novel is told by Death, the omniscient narrator. Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living near Munich during WWII, survives by stealing. One day she encounters something she can’t resist–books. Her foster father teaches young Liesel to read, and she begins to share the books with her neighbors during the bombing raids. She also shares with the Jewish man hidden in her home…before he is taken to Dachau. A funny, happy book? No. One that will grab you with a powerful story and not let go? Yes.   To quote the book, “This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.”


4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. The perfect series to read and pick you right up after The Book Thief. The books are told in cartoon illustration and prose vignettes from the POV of middle schooler, Greg. This is the book to take to the doctor’s office when you’re stuck in the waiting room with that breast feeding magazine from 1998 and Golf Digest. While I adore humor, few books make me laugh out loud. This one made the cut. When I read Wimpy Kid, heads turn I’m giggling so often. Brilliant. And spot-on with the insight into middle school life. A great read-aloud with the kids.


5. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. This small book is about ten-year-old Kaitlyn, a girl who has Asperger’s and struggles in life on a daily basis. The world just doesn’t make sense to her. When the book opens, she has been freshly thrown into grief, after the loss of her older brother. An amazing, poignant look at the world through the head of a child with Asperger’s, it sure taught this teacher something about the condition, one I was already familiar with. Beautifully written–simple, yet so complex. The end offers hope and grace. It will have you smiling, laughing, holding your breath, and awash in wonder at the handicapped mind of a child, who in the end, is the one who possesses the most wisdom. And shares it with all. I loved this book.


6. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Both books are must-reads. Selnick is both author and artist. His books are both prose and illustrations. Both tell a story. These two books are brilliantly creative, a gift for the eyes, and also a great read with the family. Hugo is the story of a boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station who wants to continue the work of his late father–fixing an automaton. But the automaton holds secrets, and the book does what Selznick is famous for–incredible twists and plot-intertwining you couldn’t possibly guess. Magic. Sheer magic.

, Selznick’s newest release, tells one story in prose, while weaving in another tale, occurring in the past, through drawings. His illustrations flow like a silent movie. I read this 608 page book in one day. Despite the girth, it’s a fast-moving story, and both threads meet in the end with the Selznick twist. Do yourself a favor and pick up these two novels. But under no circumstances, get this book on an e-reader. Has to be the real-deal book. Trust me on this one. You won’t be sorry.


7. Anything by Kate DiCamillo, such as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or The Magician’s Elephant. I am not sure there is a better writer out there than DiCamillo. She not only has a fast-moving plot, but words that will have you tearing up at the sheer beauty. I have no idea if Kate’s a believer or not, but every book is packed with messages of faith, hope, and love. Whether the author meant it or not, the Holy Spirit is in these pages. Incredible books that can be shared with the family. One of my favorite lines:

“You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope.”

You not only read lines such as that in her prose, but you feel them.

True works of art.

Finally, a quick list to wrap it up. You might also consider picking up:

Anna and the French Kiss (a teen girl goes to an American school in Paris. And yes. She kisses someone.)

Warriors Don’t Cry (nonfiction account of the Little Rock Nine) (Nonfiction account implies boring–it’s so not.)

City of Bones (a whole futuristic series here)

Delirium (Dystopian lit is the rage, and this is my favorite of the masses. A tale of life where the ability to love is surgically removed. Really interesting concept that will have you thinking.)

The Giver (middle level book, and in my mind, very close to being an allegory of the sacrifice of Christ)

Also consider authors like Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jerry Spinelli, Jennifer Donnelly, Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, and Sharon Creech, just to name a few.

Young adult novels have a little something for everyone. Intrigue, romance, suspense, action, gripping characters, and issues that even we big kids can relate to.

So you know that section in Barnes and Noble they expand every time you go in the store, the one that’s nearly taking over the self-help and knitting book space? Do yourself a favor, grab a mocha, and go peruse the shelves.

You’ll be glad you did.

So what about you? Any YA readers out there? Share your favorite young adult reads.

Jenny B. Jones writes young adult romance, as well as romantic comedies for women, such as Save the Date. Her latest release, a YA, There You’ll Find Me, was a Romantic Times Top Pick and was recently reviewed at USA Today.com. The story of Finley Sinclair, a foreign exchange student trying to find peace for her grief in Ireland, There You’ll Find Me also has its fair share of adult women readers. You can find Jenny at www.jennybjones.com.

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What I’m Reading To My Children


My children have discovered my weakness.

“Will you read to us?” they ask each night, the moment they sense the wind-down toward bedtime.

How is a mother supposed to say no to that? Especially this  writer-mommy? My boys learned early on that books are deeply important to me. I ought to be alarmed that they are using books as weapons, little tools of manipulation to stay up later. But I’m not. I love it, actually. And rare are the nights when I deny them the chance to curl up next to me.

The best memories of my childhood involve the nights my mother read to me and my siblings. We’d sit, bellied up to a wood burning stove, and listen to her lyrical voice. There are words that–to me–should only be pronounced the way she says them. The “L” in Gandalf should be silent for instance. Don’t try to argue me on that one. Fighting words, they are.

My boys discovered a new (and brilliant!) tactic in the ever-present bedtime wars. Poetry. They’ve begun asking me to read them poetry at night! That’s the literary equivalent of a child begging to eat broccoli for dinner.

I suppose. If you insist. I could read a poem or two (or seven!) before bed.

This of course posed a new dilemma. What poems to read? I figured simple and fun poetry would be the best approach. My second child picked out THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS for his birthday last year. On page 185 is a handy-dandy primer for boys’s poetry. We read four of the “Seven Poems That Every Boy Should Know:”

IF by Rudyard Kipling.  My favorite lines:

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken

And stoop to build ’em up with worn-out tools.”

INVICTUS by William Ernest Henley. My favorite lines:

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.”

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost. My favorite lines:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two road diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.”

SEA-FEVER by John Mansfield. My favorite of all the poems we read by far, these lines especially made me smile:

“I must to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife.”

Now, don’t get the idea that we’re all serious around here. My kids like silliness and toilet humor as much as the next red-blooded American male. So we ended the night with two rousing numbers from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS:

ICKLE ME, PICKLE ME, TICKLE ME TOO by Shel Silverstein. Love these lines:

“Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew

And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew.”

What is mulligan stew? No idea. But I’d take some any day. Along with a flying shoe! (Thrown shoes don’t count. Take note of that boys, if you’re reading this)


“It filled the can, it covered the floor,

It cracked the window and blocked the door

With bacon rinds and chicken bones,

Drippy ends of ice cream cones.”

Also, please know that for the most part my children had no idea what any of these poems meant (except the last two) but they liked the sound of my voice as I read them and that’s enough for me. Bedtime can wait a few minutes longer if the price I pay is four little boys who love to read (and be read to).

What are you reading to your children (or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, plants, or pets) these days?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links. ” This means if you click on the link and purchase the book, She Reads will receive an affiliate commission. These commissions help us pay for the site and the services we offer. Regardless, we only recommend books that we have read and loved.  

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5 Ways to Choose Novels for Your Book Club

Today our book club columnist, Melissa Hambrick, shares how her book club chooses their monthly selections. Grab a pencil, take some notes, and then let us know how  your book club settles on a book.

Melissa Hambrick

Every month, we tie a blindfold on one of our book club members. Then we spin her around in circles until she cries “Uncle! “, and send her topsy-turvy around the bookstore in a drunken stagger to pin the bookmark on the title. Wherever it lands is the book we choose.

Perhaps a bit extreme and slightly off the wall? Maybe. But choosing the perfect book for your club isn’t really a science, even though it feels that way sometimes. Everyone wants to get a turn—

different people like different genres, and what is deeply literary to one may feel like slogging through mud to another. When one person loves a fun read, another might think it’s fluff. So an old-fashioned party game could do the trick in a pinch.

How do you discover those amazing reads that become book club classics, especially with Oprah now off network television? Here are a few things we’ve tried—maybe some will help your club come together:

Goodreads: A great website that connects you with fellow bibliophiles like yourself, the online equivalent of a friend pressing a book into your hot hands and saying, “You have GOT to read this. ” On this site, I’m friends with several people who are in my book club, as well as friends from all over the country.  I’m even friends with a couple of authors now, after reading their books and giving them a nice review and rating. I can see what my friends are reading, and pick and choose from books they’ve read that look interesting. I’ve also been able to offer out questions to some of my favorite authors who come to Goodreads to do online chats…but so far, Ann Patchett has not taken me up on an offer to come join our book club here in Nashville, although I think we made a pressing case for it.

Online Book Clubs: Sites like SheReads.org and BeautyandtheBook.com (home of The Pulpwood Queens book club) are fantastic repositories for previously undiscovered authors and novels. Often, they offer author interviews and background about the book or author you might not read anywhere else. There are usually great giveaways and sometimes, as with BeautyandtheBook.com, getaways as well—like their annual Girlfriend Weekend. And couldn’t we all use that?

Other Books: For a while, we had a couple of rules for picking our monthly reads. First we said it had to be in paperback, because hardbacks were kind of pricey—and then that went by the wayside when everyone in our club ended up getting Kindles and Nooks. Another one of our rules that carried on for a while is that our next book had to, in some way, be a jumping off point from a previous book—either in theme, or setting. It makes for an interesting progression and great comparisons from month to month.

Food: Ah yes, part of the holy trinity of book club—the written word, inspiring conversation and amazing food. Although a book may inspire a menu, it’s possible to let your favorite foods inspire the choice of book, too. I’d also recommend The Book Club Cookbook (http://bookclubcookbook.com/) that pulls together two of my personal favorite things seamlessly. I think our club may soon have a themed dinner with recipes from some of our best-loved novels from the past few years using this book!

Bookstores: Our book club has been known to wrap up a wonderful evening by going to the bookstore as a group and wandering around. No one gets blindfolded. But once we get going, it’s hard to stop, of course—all of us girls and all of those books. It feels decadent. We’re like kids in a candy store. You might also consider signing up for newsletters or social media feeds from retailers big and small. For those of us here in Nashville, Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s new bookstore) sends out some great recommendations on their Facebook page, while I’ve also discovered some great new releases from Barnes & Noble’s emails.

Resign yourself to this: you’ll never make everyone happy. Few and far between are those books, like The Help, that everyone seems to love equally. More often than not, you’ll be a club divided—but isn’t that what makes for a great conversation? I’ve discovered some great authors and some of my favorite books by stretching myself beyond what I would have chosen on my own.

Question for you: How does your book club make their reading picks?

Melissa Hambrick  is a former entertainment industry PR exec, a full-time stay-at-home mom of two boys and a part-time volunteer for any school function that she didn’t scrunch down in her seat far enough to avoid.   Having written for numerous publications, including  Home Lifeand  Today’s Christian Woman, and with chapter one of what is sure to be a bestselling novel stored in her laptop  for the last year and a half, she blogs at WordMom.com less frequently than she probably should.   Her book club, which she lovingly dubs 'overachievers anonymous,’ actually has a strange preference for books they don’t really love, which  they find leads  to much more interesting conversation.

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