Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

March 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, March 27th, 2015

March 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I can’t believe that it is already time to share my monthly reading list with you. I read so many beautiful books in March and I am excited to share my thoughts on what I read this month. I hope that you are also following along with my Sundays With Writers series where I interview the authors about their books and try to find out more about their stories behind the stories. This series happens to be my favorite and it is such a treat to share why they created their books.

Here are six great books I tackled this month!

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away is one of those books that you just swim in the words thanks to such a gifted writer. M.O. Walsh does an incredible job of setting the typical suburban neighborhood scene in the year of 1989. It’s the summer that changes everything when the town’s golden girl, Lindy Simpson, is attacked at night near her home. Told in the eyes of another neighborhood boy, who has an extreme obsession & fixation on Lindy, he tries to set the scene and name the suspects…even when his name is included among the list.

I selected this book while browsing this past month’s selection for the Amazon Featured Debut Novel category.  I picked it up and immediately emailed the author to see if I could interview him about his book, the process of writing poetically,  the buzz about his debut novel, and some interesting insights on the town he lives in (Baton Rouge) that can be found within this book.

M.O. Walsh joined me this month for Sundays With Writers and was, perhaps, one of the most candid authors I have interviewed. I would say that the interview is just as interesting as the book so definitely check it out, even if you don’t read this one.

I think with this read you need to know going in that this is not a mystery or a thriller, this is more of a character-driven piece than anything. If expectations are aligned with that, I think you will enjoy this one. It is  graphic and there is language in this one, but it is very much plot-driven and not for shock value. Although, perhaps, not satisfying in the way that a typical whodunit mystery is solved, it is genuinely satisfying in capturing the mind of an adolescent boy, a bittersweet relationship between him and his father, and that tricky terrain of adolescent love and obsession.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

Hannah tells a beautiful story of two sisters who fought the war in their own ways when the Nazis invade France. It is a beautiful rendering of the survival skills needed to survive during this time focusing on the missions of one sister, in particular, who joins the French Resistance and brings soldiers to safety. While her story may seem bigger, the everyday struggles of her own sister who must house a Nazi soldier are just as harrowing. The writing is brutally honest and unflinching at what women had to do to survive and she captures their journey perfectly.

For me,  this was another solid read from Kristin Hannah (much like her Winter Garden from 2010)  and a well-researched rendering of women in the war.  While there are love stories, this was definitely a solid historical fiction book and not a chick lit read. It would lend itself well to book club discussions and I had a hard time putting this one down as  I worried for the safety of these two sisters.

4 Out of 5 Stars

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

I have been trying to read one business book a month to try to help me do my job here a little better. This was a fun read about how an unlikely woman became an entrepreneur of a multi-million dollar company. I think Sophia really showcases that you don’t have to go about business the traditional way and that you don’t have to be a traditional CEO in order for people to respect you. From the nuts and bolts of crafting a resume all the way to landing investors and hiring, this book covers all the basics of business in a fun way.

I really related to Sophia and how she landed into a business she never expected, started small (with no expectation of earning money), and then grew a business with no money at all.  She did not finish school, she lacked the expected polish of a CEO, but she learned that you don’t need to always go the traditional route to be an incredible business woman. Her story really resonated with me and would be a great read if you feel unconfident in business or have always dreamed of being a self-starter, but lack the self-esteem to get started. She shows you that you can be anything you want to be.

A little raunchy and a lot of girl power, I really enjoyed this one!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Americanah by Chimamanda ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I have picked up Americanah a few times at my library, but kept returning it because I never got to it, due to the size of the book (588 pages).  When I would do our Sundays With Writers interviews, this book came up a few times as the one book that the authors interviewed thought that everyone should read. I seem to be on a kick this year with books on the struggles of immigration (another book featured below as well as The Unknown Americans) so I thought I would not let the size intimidate me anymore and sit down with this book.

This is a  beautiful read centered around love and race when a young woman and man from Nigeria face difficult choices in the countries they call home. The relationship follows two teens until they are adults as they both try to make their way to America, one succeeding and one not in reaching their destination. Adichie really writes beautifully about race in America, effectively the most in creating one of her characters as a blogger who focuses on race and racial tensions.

The length of this book was my biggest hurdle since it’s been in my pile for months, but I am so glad I made time for this one since it has come so highly recommended by so many writers.  I did feel that there were parts that were a little long on description and that the book would have been just as effective had it been shortened by a couple of hundred pages.  Regardless, I am really proud to have finally read this and would recommend this one to you if you prefer a meatier novel that really deals with race relations and the struggles of immigration. There were parts that I read out loud to my husband and sections that I really had to pause and think how I never thought about these immigration struggles and what it would be like to try to come to America. It is a very powerful read.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

This is the third book on immigration that I have read this year and definitely packed a powerful punch about how hard it would be to come to America. Ward alternates two stories- one of a typical middle-class woman who is struggling with infertility and becomes a mentor to a struggling teen and the other story of a young girl and her brother who face the harshest kind of poverty and are trying to get to America where they can finally be reunited with their mother and safe. The story of her journey to America is harrowing and devastating to read. Ward doesn’t hold back on setting the scene, giving you an eye-opening look at the real struggles of coming to America. Their lives intertwine and provide a satisfying conclusion to this sad story.

I found this book disturbing in some parts and I have been carrying some of the scenes around with me this month. There is poverty and then there is POVERTY. We are talking, eating flour and water for dinner (if you are lucky), addictions to glue to feel full by small children, parents abandoning a child to take care of another child and head to America. It was really heartbreaking.

I am glad I read it, but it was just really heavy.

Ward does a great job of contrasting the struggles of a typical middle-class white suburban mother against the struggles of a child in poverty effectively without being mean about it. It made me think about how my struggles are so minor compared to the struggles of others.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I selected this book for my local book club this month after discovering it was the #1 book of all the books on Amazon for 2014. How could you not select this after making that discovery?

This is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in. As with My Sunshine Away, I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece.

Celeste Ng will be joining me in a Sundays With Writers soon and I am so excited to share more of her story with you.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Read With me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

 

 

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Amy’s Notebook 03.25.15

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

DIY Typography Easter Eggs via Lovely Indeed

Source: Lovely Indeed

 

Super cool DIY typography Easter eggs.

DIY Easter bunny shoe clips – adorable!

Loved reading this piece since I am reading these books with my little girl.

Stop apologizing for what remains and what is still being worked on.

A great piece on Project 333!

Slow cooker quinoa enchilada bake looks healthy, yummy & easy to make!

How to find your style and create a capsule wardrobe.

 

2015 Spring Capsule via Elise Blaha

Source: Elise Blaha

 

Love peeking at other people’s spring capsules.

Jotting down these products for my beauty wish-list.

I needed this parenting reminder.

New Alzheimer’s treatment fully restores memory function- this is so exciting!

The 23 best movies on Netflix you haven’t seen yet.

Play ‘Family Feud’ against the top-ten results in Google’s autocomplete.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Sundays With Writers

One of the privileges of having this space has been doing our Sundays With Writers interview series. The other privilege has been getting to sneak peek books before they hit store shelves so I can share them with you. Whiskey & Charlie was provided to me by NetGalley a couple of months ago and I simply could not put it down. I even included it last month in my must-read list! This book will be hitting store shelves on April 7th, but I already read the exciting news that this one has been selected as a Target Book Club pick for April.

How exciting is that for our featured author today? 

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Whiskey and Charlie might have come from the same family, but they would tell you two completely different stories about growing up. Whiskey is everything Charlie is not – bold, daring, carefree – and Charlie blames his twin brother for always stealing the limelight, always getting everything, always pushing Charlie back. By the time the twins reach adulthood, they are barely even speaking to each other.

When they were just boys, the secret language they whispered back and forth over their crackly walkie-talkies connected them, in a way. The two-way alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta) became their code, their lifeline. But as the brothers grew up, they grew apart.

When Charlie hears that Whiskey has been in a terrible accident and has slipped into a coma, Charlie can’t make sense of it. Who is he without Whiskey? As days and weeks slip by and the chances of Whiskey recovering grow ever more slim, Charlie is forced to consider that he may never get to say all the things he wants to say. A compelling and unforgettable novel about rivalry and redemption, Whiskey & Charlie is perfect for anyone whose family has ever been less than picture-perfect.

This story is incredibly moving and bittersweet. The author does a great job tackling the difficulties of sibling rivalry, what it would be like to be a twin, and how even when we don’t always like our family members, they are always our family and loved.

To me though, the most ambitious element of this book is that the author uses the phonetic alphabet for each chapter that perfectly weaves into the story and adds another level of charm to this book. 

Please grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this fun interview with Annabel Smith today!

Annabel Smith

The story of Whiskey & Charlie, identical twin brothers now estranged, was such a beautiful telling of the messiness and challenges of sibling rivalry. In telling their story, you adopted the phonetic alphabet, something these two were fond of using on walkie-talkies as kids, as the chapter names for your book. How did you decide to incorporate this unique element in your book and did these names actually help to drive the plotlines of your story?

I’ve always been interested in novels which have unique structuring principles, like David Nicholl’s One Day.  When I began writing the book that became Whiskey and Charlie, I had recently learnt the phonetic alphabet. I decided to explore the possibility of structuring the novel around the alphabet. Some chapters were easy: Charlie, Juliet, Oscar and Mike all became characters in the novel; Lima and Quebec became the settings for various episodes, definitely taking the novel in directions it might not otherwise have gone! Certain chapters haunted me: how was I going to build part of the story around ‘Yankee’ for example? But it all came together in the end, and for a novel that tells the story of the communication between two brothers, the two-way alphabet feels like the perfect metaphor.

Why was there a title change from Whisky & Charlie Foxtrot to just Whiskey & Charlie with the US release of your book? How did you feel about that?

David Shafer released his novel Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in August 2014 and the team at Sourcebooks were concerned people may confuse the two books. I was disappointed at first, but the title is just one small part of a book: it’s what’s inside that counts and that hasn’t changed.

Was writing your first book,  A New Map of the Universe,  easier than writing this second one?  I think as readers we think the debut must be the hardest.

I definitely found writing the second novel easier. With my first novel, A New Map of the Universe, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never written anything longer than 8,000 words and every time I contemplated the size of the whole, I became completely paralysed. By the time I came to write Whiskey and Charlie I at least had the confidence of knowing I could write a book, because I’d already proved it to myself. Of course there were different challenges to face – each book has it’s own problems that have to be worked through, but the alphabet structure gave me a starting point for each new chapter, which helped me overcome the terror of the blank page.

How much research did you do to prepare for Whiskey’s coma and writing the medical terminology and explanations that were given to the family? What did you find most surprising about comatose patients?

I did a huge amount of research on coma, because I didn’t have any knowledge about it at the outset, either theoretically or experientially. I read medical websites, hospital information pamphlets, and coma support group message boards, as well as studying the stages of death and grief. It was important to me to understand the physical side of coma as well as the psychological implications for family and friends. The two most surprising things I learned were firstly, how many additional things can go wrong when someone is in a coma, and also, how people can emerge, relatively intact, from comas that last for many months or occasionally even years.

The Small Press Network issues the MUBA’s (Most Underated Book Awards) each year and Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot was one of the 2013 selections. How did it feel to make that list and do you think this is what helped with the book being issued in the US?

I was so thrilled to be on the Most Underrated Book Awards shortlist. It was flattering to have someone acknowledge that it perhaps deserved to have more attention than it got. But I don’t think that was a factor in the US publication. That came about because my Australian publisher showed it to Shana Drehs at Sourcebooks during Frankfurt Book fair and Shana thought it would resonate with a US audience.

What do you have in store for us in your next book?

My third novel, The Ark is quite a departure from Whiskey and Charlie. It tells the story of a group of scientists and their families who retreat into a bunker during a post-peak oil crisis, exploring human nature in desperate times. It is a contemporary version of an epistolary novel, told through emails, blog posts, text messages and memos and is accompanied by an interactive website with a fan fiction hub. However, despite its more experimental nature, it is similar to Whiskey and Charlie in the sense that it explore human relationships and how extraordinary circumstances can reveal people for who they really are.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

My all-time favourite novel is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, the incredible story of a prolonged embassy siege and the relationships which form between the hostages and their captors. Patchett has the most incredible insight into human behaviour and her prose is simply gorgeous. I have read this book at least half a dozen times and I get something new from it every time.

You can connect with Annabel Smith on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Naturally Calm, Loving My House, & the Perfect Spice

Friday, March 20th, 2015

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends!  We are looking forward to a quiet weekend (thankfully) at home this weekend. I do have plans to take my daughter to see Cinderella though. Have you seen it yet?  We are both so excited to see it today. I hope you have lots of fun things in store for your weekend!

Here are 3 things that are making me happy this week…

Natural Calm

Natural Calm

Despite how I might portray myself on here, I can admit that I am quite the basketcase these days. The work and home life juggle has been fierce.  Some days I’m like, “WHAT IN THE WORLD?”  In some ways life does get easier with having older kids, but in other ways it gets harder. Between the daily homework grind to the endless activities to volunteering…  most days I am just trying to keep it together like any other mom out there.

Before I begin, I am NOT interested in anyone selling me anything for my nerves/anxiety. 

I take 5-HTP when I feel a dip in my moods which has really worked well for me in the past, but a couple of friends had been telling me about Natural Calm and the benefits of magnesium on the body.  I knew how good I felt after soaking in epsom salts, but the advice to take magnesium orally  went in one ear and out the other.

When I went to pick up my supplement though, the girl waiting on me said, “PLEASE try this! It has changed my life.” She pointed to a bottle on the shelf and I actually listened this time.

It was the same bottle of stuff that my friends had been raving about. If you read the reviews you can get a better picture of how much it helps people.

It is unreal the difference in my mood and calmness levels.  For me, the difference was noticeable immediately. My hardest day of the week is Tuesday. It’s the day ALL THE THINGS must happen and I am a disaster by the end of the day.

I took it in the afternoon and my husband came home and was like, “How did it go today?”

And I’m all like…”It’s cool.”

And he’s like, “No, really. Isn’t this THE HARDEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE?”

And I’m like, “Nah, man, it’s cool.”

In short, he nicknamed me Matthew McConaughey cause I’m all like, “Alright, alright, alright,” around house. Not high strung. Not crying because I can’t do ALL THE THINGS for ALL THE PEOPLE.

Do your own research, start small (or you will have the runs- trust me!) and don’t take more than what is recommended. I take a small amount in the afternoon before my children come home when they ask for ALL THE THINGS and a small amount if I am worried I will have trouble sleeping at night. I took it once in the morning and it knocked me out and I slept all day so I don’t recommend it if you want to have a productive morning. If you want to have the most glorious day of day sleeping though, it was quite lovely.  Of course, it reacts differently in everyone. For me, it makes me feel like I had a little glass of wine or a great bath.

Again, I’m not a doctor.  I don’t want to give anyone a mag addiction. Don’t take more than recommended.  Ask your doctor about magnesium. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer!

Love the Home You Have by Melissa Michaels

Love the Home You Have

My sweet friend, Melissa (of The Inspired Room), has a book coming out and she sent me a copy of it and asked me to join a blog tour to help her promote Love the Home You HaveI’ve been so lucky to get to watch her success and I was excited to dive into this book. Melissa’s journey towards loving her home echoes the same journey we have been on with our own little fixer upper. This book is BEAUTIFUL and filled with humor and wisdom about the journey towards loving your home. There is a Biblical slant to it, but it isn’t preachy.  I started this yesterday and I can’t put it down. If you struggle with loving the space you are in, she really shows you how to make the most of whatever your situation is. I love that this book isn’t about upgrading our buying more, but making simple switches to make your space more enjoyable. Their journey is relatable and her personality shines in this book.

I don’t promote books because people are my friends, I promote them if they are good.

This one is good.

Love The Home You Have from The Inspired Room on Vimeo.

Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic Blend

Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic

Now that warmer temperatures are just around the corner (yes, they ARE, Indiana!), I have already started switching my menu plan to easier summer dishes.  I bake big batches of chicken and have discovered this Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic is perfect for baking chicken with lots of flavor. I sliced up a bag of roasted chicken and tuck this in our fridge for sandwich wraps (I love a drizzle of ranch, tomatoes, & spinach with this chicken), for topping our favorite berry pecan salad, and I even put it on top of pizza for an extra kick of protein.  This spice mix is super flavorful (and affordable)!

Capsule Wardrobe Ideas (current capsule HERE)

Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfits Spring Capsule Wardrobe Outfits

Are you following me on Instagram? I post 4 outfits each week!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

Amy’s Notebook 03.18.15

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Chipotle Chicken Wraps via Tastes Better From Scratch

Source: Tastes Better From Scratch

 

Chipotle chicken wraps- get in my belly.

Success can happen at any age.

A Stay-at-Home Parent Is Not a ‘Luxury’

Oh, this is fancy.

Now THIS is a March Madness I can get behind.

I’m completely inspired by this fun Ikea hack.

How To Make Giant Paper Flowers via Julie Blanner

Source: Julie Blanner

 

Learn how to make giant paper flowers from tissue paper.

Princess books for smart, strong girls.

The case for lowering your expectations.

One-ingredient ice cream? Looks amazing!

13 Netflix shows worth binge-watching.

Making your corned beef and cabbage as a slow cooker soup? Yes, please!

 

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There is just nothing like a good thriller especially the kind that keeps you up at night until the wee hours of the morning because you just can’t put it down. I was lucky enough to receive THE BULLET last month to review for NetGalley and found myself reading at a record pace because I just couldn’t flip those pages fast enough. I had a book hangover for a couple of days, trying to recover from the lack of sleep I had been experiencing while reading this.

It’s that good.

THE BULLET comes out this week (March 17th) and I want you to run right out and get it so you can experience my level of exhaustion. I really doubt you will be able to put it down.

I reached out to Mary Louise Kelly to see if she might like to share a little bit about her life as both a reporter and a fictional writer.  I think this interview perfectly captures what I imagine her personality to be which seems to fill the pages in her fabulous new thriller. Please do read through to the end so you can see her publicly challenge her brother in this interview.

She is my kind of lady.

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

THE BULLET  is a beautifully written mystery that echoes some of my favorite thrillers from Chevy Stevens.  The premise of the book is when a woman discover a bullet in her body that she was never aware of it, it sends her life spiraling in a direction that she never expected. The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected, cause this cold case to be reopened… reopening wounds of the family and friends around her.

Despite the gravity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it, the book is laced with great humor and a cast of endearing characters. I really enjoyed this one for a quick escape and can’t recommend it enough.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Mary Louise as she shares more about this book!

Mary Louise Kelly

The premise for your latest book THE BULLET is shaped around a woman going in for a routine scan and discovering that she has a bullet in her body that she never knew about. How did you come up with this unique idea for the storyline for your book?

It’s a true story! I was sitting on the sidelines of my son’s little league baseball game one afternoon, when another mom plopped down next to me, heaved a sigh, and said something like, “Well, I’ve had a heck of a week.” Long story short, she had just had a routine scan that revealed a bullet in her neck that she never knew about. She had no scar, no clandestine past, and she swore she’d never been shot. Driving home afterwards, I kept thinking, how is that even possible? I’m a reporter by training, so I dug into medical literature, looking for examples of people who have survived gunshots to the neck or head. And then the novelist in me took over:  I imagined all kinds of wild scenarios, from amnesia to witness-protection programs to CIA plots. My protagonist discovers the bullet in her neck by page 8. What follows are 349 pages of pure fiction, focused on her quest to find out how on earth it got there, and what on earth she’s going to do about it.

What is your process for fleshing out a thriller like this? Do you have the mystery solved before you write it so you know where you are headed or did you build the story and motive as you progressed through the writing?

I map out the whole thing, to make certain it’s a story that can sustain 350 pages. But then I end up throwing out the road map as I go. My original outline is stuffed with all kinds of plot twists that fell by the wayside, and it never mentions characters that end up playing major roles. You get to know characters as you write them, and some prove more interesting than others (the nice thing about fiction is that you can kill off the ones who get on your nerves.) One theme that runs throughout The Bullet is that we should question how well we really know the people we love, and even how well we know ourselves and what we are capable of. I kick off the book with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Robert Penn Warren. He writes that human beings are complicated contraptions, “not good or bad but… good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.” Isn’t that great? I agree with him, and tried to conceive all of my characters as complicated contraptions. That makes both the protagonist and the forces opposing her more interesting, and both of them kept surprising me as I wrote.

You have created such endearing characters in this book and Caroline’s family, in particular, are just the kind of people every girl wishes she had in her life. Which character did you find the most endearing??

Thank you. I have a soft spot for Beamer Beasley, the grizzled cop who helps Caroline unravel the secrets of her past. Writers aren’t supposed to admit to imagining which Hollywood star would play our characters, but Beamer is screaming to be played by Morgan Freeman, and really, wouldn’t we all want him on our side when investigating a gruesome crime? I also loved every scene with Madame Aubuchon. I could just picture her so clearly, in all her hauteur and brittleness, but also her intelligence and decency. As for Caroline’s family, a lot of readers have commented on how close she is to her brothers. They love and support her, even as they drive her nuts. I confess this sibling back-and-forth is completely autobiographical. My brother C.J. gets me riled up faster than anyone; you do not want to be in the room when the two of us get going on politics or feminism or the relative merits of tofu vs. steak. But as I note in the Acknowledgments, C.J. is also hands down the person I would want beside me in a bar brawl.

Mary Louise Kelly

Source: KPLU

How do you think your background as a reporter has helped you as a writer? What skills are you able to use from this profession to be build a good fictional story?

My journalism training helps enormously with dialogue, because when you write for broadcast, you strive to write conversationally. Most of us write in complete, grammatically correct sentences, because that’s the way our high school teachers and college professors taught us. But that’s not the way people talk, and it takes time to unlearn it. Writing for radio gave me a head start. It also instilled an instinct for storytelling. At NPR, we aim for the “driveway moment” – that moment when a listener has made it home, and he’s got the car in park, and he needs to get inside, but he’s listening to something so gripping he can’t turn it off. You want to spool out enough detail that the listener gets hooked, while holding enough back that he wants to keep listening. That’s key to writing a good novel, too, although I suppose the goal shifts to creating a  “nightstand moment” – when a reader sits up turning pages, well after he knows he should have chucked the novel on his nightstand and have turned out the light.

Caroline’s irritation with the reporters made me chuckle since you have worked as an NPR & BBC reporter. In one line she says, “Reporters. Honestly. What an exhausting profession, to be professionally trained to be relentless.” Is it exhausting?

Actually, no. It’s exhilarating. There was a great line in a New Yorker profile of Samantha Power, President Obama’s ambassador to the U.N. The writer describes Power, a former journalist, as retaining “a reporter’s instinct for amassing facts and deploying them to extract more.” That’s exactly right. You find out one interesting thing, and it makes you want to dig and find out more. Get a bunch of reporters together, swapping stories about that time on deadline on the Khyber Pass, or banging on voters’ doors in Iowa, or quizzing the President in a White House press conference, and at some point we all break into grins, and somebody says out loud what everyone is thinking:  I can’t believe we actually get paid to do this.

 Since this is your second book to be published, did you find this one easier or harder to write than your first? How long did it take you to create this story and what did you find most challenging with this book?

This second one took less time. Maybe I’m getting faster, but more likely it’s because the first time around I was working full-time as NPR’s Pentagon correspondent. While writing Anonymous Sources, I kept jetting off on reporting trips to war zones, and when I was home in Washington, I was filing daily news reports from the Pentagon. Writing fiction was my third priority, after my day job and after being a wife and mom.

The Bullet took me 16 months, from sitting down to write Chapter One to handing in a full draft of the manuscript. Then come months of editing and polishing and proofreading. As for Book Three… we shall see how long it takes. Right now I’m ramping up again on journalism; I have dearly (insanely?) missed the daily deadlines, and being engaged in the national dialogue on everything from race to politics to technology. My hope is I’ll end up with loads of fresh ideas for my fiction; my agent fears I’ll end up taking a decade to produce another book. But another side effect of being a reporter is that I write fast, so watch this space!

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I would tell my brother to read Birdsong, the 1993 novel by Sebastian Faulks. It’s about a British soldier in France during World War I, and it is the most gorgeous epic of love and war and regrets. I’ve been telling my brother to read it for twenty years now, and he keeps refusing, at this point out of sheer orneriness. C.J., consider yourself publicly challenged.

You can connect with Mary Louise Kelly on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

 

 

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Comfy Leopard Flats, Hilarious Television, & Gluten-Free Wrap Happiness

Friday, March 13th, 2015

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends! We had a whirlwind of a week this week and are looking forward to a fun-filled weekend with good friends! I was so excited to unveil this month’s capsule wardrobe to you as well as share some of our favorite resources for  Spring wardrobe planning.  With temperatures feeling a little warmer this week, it is making me so excited for Spring in Indiana!

Here is what is making me happy this week!

Hush Puppies Leopard Flats

Comfy Ballet Flats

I had to take inventory of my shoes for Spring and I have been torturing myself for years with cheap ballet flats that don’t fit my feet. Did I mention my feet are probably as wide as they are long? That is a true statement and I now have to embrace old-lady stores to get shoes that are comfortable. When I pulled out my leopard flats for the year, I realized that were falling apart and I also realized that life is too short for terrible fitting shoes. I ended up ordering a pair of these Hush Puppies Chaste Ballet Flats and they are making my fat feet so much happier.  There was no breaking in with these,  I just slipped them on, like the world’s comfiest slippers, and they feel like a dream.  I am planning to take these on my anniversary trip to Italy because they offer great support and comfort while looking pretty darn stylish!  If leopard isn’t your thing, they come in a variety of fun prints and styles. Life is too short for uncomfortable shoes, friends!

ALDI Gluten-Free Wraps

ALDI Gluten Free Wraps

I am loving ALDI’s gluten-free line of products and have been trying to pick up one or two things every time I am there to try from their  live G free line of foods. I decided to pick these gluten-free wraps up so I could make our make-ahead breakfast burritos and divided my filling in half and filled the kids with the regular tortillas and treated myself to six wraps, crossing my fingers the whole time that these would be easy to wrap/fill and that they would freeze well. I am SO happy to report that I had an incredible breakfast all week because these tasted just like the day I got them when I reheated them from freezer to table.  If I am being honest, I actually preferred these to the texture of the flour tortillas because they didn’t get gummy at all.  The bonus is that a package of these only costs $3.99 so it made my week of breakfasts VERY affordable!

Make Me Laugh Until I Cry Television

I adore Tina Fey and I could not wait to dive into her new television series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” that debuted last Friday on Netflix.  This trailer doesn’t do justice to its hilarity. The writing is solid, the actors are all likable, and the show is pretty darn family friendly considering how outrageous some of the shows are on television right now.  I can’t recommend this one enough as the perfect Netflix escape. My husband and I both love this one equally!

Ryan's birthday

Our son took this blurry picture of us on my husband’s birthday. I debated if I should delete it because it was out of focus, but I’m glad I didn’t.   This guy also makes me pretty darn happy and celebrating his birthday this week was such a treat!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

Amy’s Notebook 03.11.15

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Foyer via Pink Little Notebook

Source: Pink Little Notebook

 

Wowed by this foyer makeover.

I love this article on how punctuation has changed.

A great list of apps to check out for your phone.

A few words on passive influences, social media envy and the downside of inspiration.

This: adopted as a child, now a mother, finally ‘Lucky.’

Simple guidelines (and printables!) for allowing kids to stay home alone.

I love this new mama care package.

What a beautiful way to photo journal. I’m inspired.

How to see more of what you want to see on Pinterest.

Smoothie Kits via The Kitchn

Source: The Kitchn

 

How to stock a smoothie drawer.

I want to read all of these before I see the movies!

How to make flying coach feel like first class.

Sex IS tricky.

Finally, we have an answer on how much Joey owes Chandler.

Oils can save us from the zombie apocalypse.

I need this extension for my email.

How to banish FOMO from your life.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Sundays With Writers: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Sundays are just made for curling up with a great book and today I am excited to feature an interview with a new author that has created a lot of buzz with his debut novel, My Sunshine AwayI selected this book while browsing this past month’s selection for the Amazon Featured Debut Novel category.  I picked it up and immediately emailed the author to see if I could interview him about his book, the process of writing poetically,  the buzz about his debut novel, and some interesting insights on the town he lives in (Baton Rouge) that can be found within this book.  I simply love his responses to my questions and the honesty with which he writes.

Before we begin,  I know you like me to disclose this in our book reviews and interviews so the book featured today does have sex and language in it.  This doesn’t make me shy away from a book unless it is simply for shock value and that is definitely not the case in this book.  I really liked this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy that can help explain why I choose the books I do (I echo her sentiments completely).

I also loved what M.O. Walsh, our author today, says about his writing.  He says, “If a writer is concerned about the reception of their work more than the creation of it, then they are likely to mitigate this honesty in a way that makes for a weaker book.  And, if their unmitigated honesty eventually upsets people or disturbs them, then I think that’s ok.  We can only understand what we cherish by recognizing what it is that unsettles us.  I think that’s a large part of the function of art, actually, to be unsettling.”

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away is one of those books that you just swim in the words thanks to such a gifted writer. M.O. Walsh does an incredible job of setting the typical suburban neighborhood scene in the year of 1989. It’s the summer that changes everything when the town’s golden girl, Lindy Simpson, is attacked at night near her home. Told in the eyes of another neighborhood boy, who has an extreme obsession & fixation on Lindy, he tries to set the scene and name the suspects…even when his name is included among the list. Although, perhaps, not satisfying in the way that a typical whodunit mystery is solved, it is genuinely satisfying in capturing the mind of an adolescent boy, a bittersweet relationship between him and his father, and that tricky terrain of adolescent love and obsession. I really enjoyed this read and I look forward to sharing more about the author behind the story.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a chat with M.O. Walsh today!

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

Congratulations on your debut novel and I am so excited to see that it was selected as Amazon’s Featured Debut Novel for the month of February along with being a New York Times Bestseller, Entertainment Weekly’s “Must” for 2015, an Indie Next Pick, and a Library Journal Essential Debut. How long did it take you to write this incredible book and what has it been like to have it so well received once it has been released into the world?

Thanks!  I really appreciate all of your support and excitement.  I worked on this novel for about 7 years, so it has been really gratifying to see it actually make its way out into the world.  All of the really generous reviews and press have been humbling, to say the least.  I think when you write a novel, you focus so much on trying to make it as good as you possibly can that you become, undoubtedly, your own toughest critic.  So, when people say nice things about your writing, at least for me, it’s kind of surprising.  It’s not surprising in that I thought it was a bad book, it’s surprising in terms of me thinking, “Wait, you read my novel? That’s been sitting on my computer for 7 years.  How did you get a copy of it?” Ha.

Was the story of Lindy Simpson based upon any events that happened in your own life or was this just a story that you wanted to explore creatively?

Both, actually.  I grew up in a neighborhood similar to the one in the novel and can remember overhearing a story about a young girl on our street being attacked one night. I was way too young, however, to understand what this meant when I originally heard it (I was just a kid who wanted to play outside and nothing else).  So, I kind of stashed the story away in the back of mind like people do.  Then, the older I got, the more I couldn’t help thinking about how strange it was that a place that I thought of so nostalgically and wonderfully could have possibly been so horrible to another child my age.  So, instead of asking my mom about it, or doing any research into the actual event, I decided to explore it creatively through fiction.

Your story takes place in Baton Rouge, which is a town that I understand you are quite familiar with since you live and teach there.  There are sections of your book that are really devoted towards the feelings of the people of Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina strikes and the struggle with supporting the people of New Orleans through that. There is also a lot about how the town felt in the aftermath of the storm.  Were these just feelings of your character or do you feel like these are your feelings and you are echoing the sentiments of people of Baton Rouge as a whole? Do you feel like the town is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina?

I think a lot of places are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is the obvious example, and deservedly so, but there are also smaller coastal towns that have never recovered and larger cities like Baton Rouge and Shreveport and Houston who saw some real shifts in their demographics as a result of the Katrina refugees. I think many of these cities simply had to come to grips with a new reality in the wake of this population growth.  I can’t speak for them, nor can I speak for Baton Rouge as a whole. However, since I’ve spent most of my life in Baton Rouge, and since it’s where the narrator is from, and since the narrator is very aware of the differences between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and the differences between him and the main character Lindy Simpson, I felt it was a subject ripe for exploration.  The truth of the matter is that not many people have told Baton Rouge’s side of the Katrina story. And, since this narrator got an opportunity to do so, when telling his own personal story, he went for it.

The narrator of your story is also a potential suspect in the rape of Lindy Simpson.  Why do you think it was important to tell it from his perspective, a neighbor boy obsessed with Lindy himself?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I never really conceived of the novel in any other way.  I think a large part of what attracted me to the story as a whole was the narrator’s compulsion to confess to something.  I’m definitely not a crime writer or mystery writer, have never really read many books in those genres, so I was operating only under the simple premise that the narrator had something he desperately needed to tell the reader.  That, I think, drives much of the story.  Looking back at it now, I can see other reasons why the perspective is important but, again, it’s hard to quantify because the entire book would be different, I think, if the perspective changed.

Writing about rape and sexuality has to be a tough and ambitious first topic to tackle in a debut novel. Were you scared how this story would be received? Were the more graphic & messy scenes difficult for you to write as a writer or do you just go in that place and let the words go?

I never thought of myself as writing about rape.  I’m definitely not qualified to do that.  I was just trying to tell this one person’s story.  In that way, I was never really scared about what the reception might be.  The only thing that makes fiction work, I think, is honesty.  Pure, raw, you-can’t-tell-anyone-else-I-told-you-this honesty. If a writer is concerned about the reception of their work more than the creation of it, then they are likely to mitigate this honesty in a way that makes for a weaker book.  And, if their unmitigated honesty eventually upsets people or disturbs them, then I think that’s ok.  We can only understand what we cherish by recognizing what it is that unsettles us.  I think that’s a large part of the function of art, actually, to be unsettling.  That said, I did not set out to accomplish anything as grand as that.  I just wanted to tell a good story with good sentences, and I find that plenty challenging enough.

You Are My Sunshine

Why did you title your book, My Sunshine Away and what is the significance of this title in telling your story?

This is taken from the song You Are My Sunshine, made famous by two time Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. This is also the state song of Louisiana.  So, when kids grow up here, they learn to sing this song at a very young age.  You’ll often hear classrooms of kindergarteners singing this at Grandparent’s Day or the like, and it is a great big happy sound.  However, once I got older and learned the verses to the song, I realized that they were full of sadness and, some might argue, even menace. So, the song made a lot of sense to me in the way the narrator looks back at his youth.  The overall impression of his youth and neighborhood is a happy one, like the chorus, but the details are as sad and troubling as the verses to the song itself.

It is no surprise to me that you are the Creative Writing Workshop director at the University of New Orleans because your words practically sing off the page and have a poetic nuance that reminds me of Anthony Doerr’s poetic phrasing in,  All the Lights We Cannot See. Who are your biggest influences in your writing and is this something that you are just born with or does writing poetically take a lot of practice?

I’ve actually just read Doerr’s book and so I understand what a tremendous compliment this is. I think that novel is amazing. So, thank you!  My own literary influences are really all over the place.  I learned a lot from sentence writers like Barry Hannah.  I learned about setting from people like William Faulkner and Willa Cather.  I also greatly appreciate the imagination of people like Italo Calvino. I think every writer has kind of a grab bag of people they learn from. However, my main influence is definitely a writer named Lewis Nordan. He was a guy from the Mississippi delta whose books Music of the Swamp, Wolf Whistle and Sharpshooter Blues absolutely recalibrated the way I thought that people could write about the South. In a literary tradition so full of gritty and violent men, Nordan’s main characters are often highly sensitive and whimsical boys trying to navigate the odd terrain they’ve been born into. His enormous sympathy for his characters really resonated with me and I feel I would be a different person in life, not just as a writer, if I’d never read him.

I definitely think that some people are born with sort of a writer’s eye.  They inherently see connections and potentials for stories where others don’t.  However, I think that actually learning to write fiction well takes a tremendous amount of practice and dedication. I’ve basically been doing nothing else for the last twenty years of my life and I still don’t feel like I have a full grasp on the craft.  I don’t know that anyone does. It’s an incredibly difficult and puzzling process, writing fiction. I think that’s what ultimately makes it a worthwhile pursuit.  It’s an honor for me to try and help other writers get their vision out into the world. I’m happy to do it.

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

This answer would likely be different on any day you asked me. There are so many great books out there!  Right now, however, I will say Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I’ve found myself missing that book lately, sort of yearning to go back and re-read it for maybe the 12th time.  Who knows why?  This is the great mystery of beautiful fiction; it speaks to us in fundamental ways that we ourselves don’t always understand. It’s a glorious thing.

 

You can connect with M.O. Walsh on Facebook and through his website. I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Amy’s Notebook 03.04.15

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

chocolate snacking cake via Barefeet In the Kitchen

Source: Barefeet in the Kitchen

 

Midnight snacking craving solved with this.

This is concerning.

Pattern a Day fun.

Fashion-forward ways to wear your sneakers. Yes, sneakers!

This is my kind of cake.

I love a great one-pot dish!

Say No via Elise Blaha

Source: Elise Blaha

 

Say No to Say Yes

Achieve perfectly creamy scrambled eggs with this secret.

How one stupid tweet can change your life.

I use to strain my pasta with a colander. After seeing this? Never again!

I feel the same way about the difficulty with book reviewing for others.

This is what poverty looks like. What can you do about it?

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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