Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

Sundays With Writers: The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Happy Easter Sunday! I hope that you are all enjoying celebrating this season with your family! Today I am excited be interviewing Amanda Eyre Ward, in this week’s Sundays With Writers, about her beautiful and haunting book, The Same Sky. It made my must-read list for last month’s round-up of great reads and today I am learning a little bit more about the story behind the story.

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

 

Ward alternates two stories in The Same Sky- 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 knew after reading it that I had to reach out to Amanda and see if she could share why this story was so important to tell and what we, as readers, can learn from this book.

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.

Grab your morning coffee and let’s settle in with Amanda about her hauntingly beautiful book!

Amanda-Eyre-Ward-Headshot

Can you share a little bit about the research you had to do on immigrant children and children at the Mexico/US border to start shaping this book and the story of Carla?

Yes. When I first became obsessed with the children who ride the Beast to find their parents in the US, I had no idea how on Earth I would research the topic. (I actually have an almost magical belief that the right topics come to me at the right time…as do the people/books/travels I need to understand the topics…but that’s another question entirely!)

It turns out that another mom at my children’s school runs many of the shelters at the US border for unaccompanied minors was apprehended trying to enter the US. She was kind enough to bring me to Brownsville and San Diego to talk to the kids about being a writer. I was also able to ask the children about their journeys to the US. To a one, their stories were harrowing and amazing and brave and sad…their voices all combined to create Carla’s voice.

I hope it is okay to say that I have been carrying the story of Carla and her brother around for the last few weeks and I can’t stop thinking about the horrific poverty they faced. First, how hard was it for you hearing these stories and then shaping this story into a book and, secondly, how do you think your readers could help change the real story of immigrant children?

Of course it is OK! It’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, in fact. It was incredibly hard to hear these kids’ stories…especially being a mom myself. I had a hard time turning off the kids’ voices. I still struggle with holding the knowledge that every night, as I tuck my children into bed, there are children sleeping on cardboard boxes by train tracks…and there are kids clinging to the tops of trains, or trying to sleep after another day with no food and no hope, or unable to sleep because they are terrified that the local gang will come for them. The list goes on. But crafting the novel helped me make sense of one girl’s story…I was able to bring Carla to safety.

There are many practical ways to help these children–some on my website. But I tell readers (and friends) that the most important thing is to remember that these are children–like our children, like we were children. It is a humanitarian crisis, and these kids need and deserve asylum, kindness, care, and the ability to dream of a safe life. It is all too easy to turn away from the “surge” or “waves” of kids (as they are portrayed in the media). But you must try to remember that these are sweet, individual children. Then it’s harder to turn away.

There is a really effective use of contrast in creating Alice, a relatable middle class white woman, in this story. Why do you think this contrast is so necessary in the telling of this story?

Father Alejandro Solalinde

Source: CUSLAR

In the course of my research, I watched talks given by Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs a shelter for migrants in Ixtapec, Mexico. He said that these kids have the spiritual capital the US is lacking. This struck me, and became one of the major themes of the book: though Carla has no material goods, her faith and spiritual capital is something Alice (who quite literally has achieved The American Dream) is lacking. I wanted to show that these kids have so much to teach us about the power of faith and courage.

Whose voice was harder for you to craft- Carla’s or Alice’s? Why?

I am currently working on a book with two voices (though 3rd, unlike Alice and Carla’s 1st) and it’s funny: some days I want to write one character, and some days, another.

I wrote Carla’s section very fast…I couldn’t bear to have her linger along her journey, and was obsessed with getting her to safety. Then I inserted Alice’s sections later.

Almost every morning on NPR, I hear stories about immigration from both points of views, regarding immigrants in the US and immigration laws. Although this book is not political, do you hope people might walk away with a different viewpoint by crafting Carla’s story?

Yes–I want readers to open their minds and hearts and listen to one child…then they might find they have different views on many issues. (I did.)

In this novel you paint so many heartbreaking scenes that pulled at my heartstrings. I am wondering, as a mother, what was the hardest scene for you to write?

The scene after Carla leaves the hospital, when her mother is bathing her in their tub in the Ace Motel. I still cry thinking about that scene.

I have read so many great books this year about the struggles of immigrants like Americanah, The Book of Unknown Americans, and your beautiful book. Do you have any other book or film recommendations (fiction or non-fiction) for people interested in learning a new viewpoint on this topic?

Enrique’s Journey and The Beast are two amazing nonfiction books…I also adored the movie Sin Nombre.

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

My favorite book last year was Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. It’s dark, riveting, gorgeous, important.

You can connect with Amanda Eyre Ward 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: Touching Things Up, Marriage Right Side Up, & Wearable Red Lips

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends! Today begins our Spring Break and we have nothing planned for the week. I can’t decide if this is a good idea or not yet.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, we are renovating our other bathroom (as we speak) and are finally getting a small taste of Spring weather. I am so thankful for both of these things finally happening.  When you see the before pictures of my bathroom you will understand the sheer delight that I am experiencing at making the space actually functional.  Is it also okay to say that I have been in a complete winter rut on my happy list? I hope so!

I thought it would be fun to share the 3 little things of some of my favorite friends and bloggers in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes your comments below are the highlight of the whole list. You guys have some amazing lists!  In fact, if you want to be a guest poster for the happy list on Fridays, send me a list like these to amy@momadvice.com and I will feature your list for the week! You need NOT be a blogger to share your happiness.  In fact,  if you are a regular reader here, it is the least I can do.

Here is what is making me happy this week!

Nice & Easy Root Touch-Up

Root Touch-Up Kit

I don’t know if it makes me happy to know that my gray is now sprouting up between color jobs BUT I am happy to know that there is a quick solution for this busy mama. I decided to give the Nice & Easy Root Touch-Up kit a spin between my at-home coloring.  I am going to say that if you want to get more bang for your buck out of this product, read the first review and you will see that you can really get a lot for your money with this one. I wish I would have read that before I did my hair so you can learn from my mistake.  This kit made my hair look better in ten minutes flat and (the majority) of my gray disappear. I highly recommend it for a quick touch-up between colorings or appointments.

Almay Smart Shade in Red

A Perfect Summer Red

I am always on the hunt for new colors once the weather warms up and this Almay Smart Shade Lipbutter in Red is just the perfect summer red.  Usually lipstick dries my lips out and don’t get me started on how hard it can be to find an ideal red that doesn’t scream Cabaret.  This one is lovely and natural looking. The lipbutter (that’s how they have it labeled on their packaging although it feels like a typo smooshed together) is supposed to adjust to your skin tone. Bolder than a gloss, it’s a good one if are just jumping into lipstick or embracing the reds.

Head Over Heels Screenshot

Marriage Right Side Up

Oh, you must take a few moments to watch this incredible award-winning short film that completely captured my heart. Head Over Heels is one of the most beautiful little short films I have ever seen and brought a little tear to my eye thanks to its sweet story & beauty.  This Oscar-nominated film was recently unleashed online and it couldn’t have made me happier. This is one you can watch with your kids and would be particularly appreciated by any budding artists or directors in your house.

HEAD OVER HEELS from Timothy Reckart on Vimeo.

 

Capsule Wardrobe Ideas (current capsule HERE)

Capsule Wardrobe Outfit Ideas

Capsule Wardrobe Outfit Ideas

Are you following me on Instagram? I post 4 outfits each week! You could also win a $500 American Express gift card for you AND for your friends this week- head here to find out how!

*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?

Love Your Home Challenge

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Love Your Home Challenge

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I have been enjoying Melissa Michael’s book, Love the Home You Have, and I am so excited to be celebrating the launch with her and many other bloggers today. Her blog, The Inspired Room, is truly the blog I go to for my own home inspiration and styling. In fact, I have even admitted to her that it might be awkward when she visits because I have stolen so many ideas from her home including paint colors and styling, that I could have never come up with on my own.

The journey towards loving our home has been a wild one in this last decade. When we first got married, we moved from an apartment to another apartment and then purchased a condo that we thought we could make our home for many years.  The loss of employment had us scrambling for both a job and a home we could afford when my husband accepted employment in Indiana. I stayed behind with our baby boy to pack us up and my husband headed to Indiana to pick out a house for us without me there.  With not even two pennies to rub together, we were approved for a lot and I encouraged him to get the most bang for our buck and spend as little as possible. I figured this would just be a temporary solution and we would flip the house once we added a little paint and buy something more our style. I had no idea the real estate market in Indiana was oh-so-different than our experience buying & selling a home in Massachusetts.

birthday

I am embarrassed to say that I did not weather the unemployment well or appreciate this home he picked out. It was not my dream house in the least and I cried when we walked inside.  Not only was it not our style at all, but everything needed to be replaced. The air conditioner was the size of a car and when it kicked in, the lights would dim in our entire house. A few days after we moved in, we called my husband’s parents to tell them the ceiling looked like it was caving in. Turned out, the roof was falling apart and I remember my husband poking holes with a screwdriver to allow the water to pour out into pails on our floor in the middle of a rain storm.  I sat on the floor crying that this was the best we could do. The electrical in the entire house left electricians concerned that we might have a house fire.  It wasn’t just the cosmetic stuff, but the big stuff like furnaces, a hot water heater, windows, an air conditioner, a roof. I could not wait to get out of this place.

12 years later, we are still here. That ugly eyesore is now the place we call home and every year I fall in love with it more.  This has been a long journey getting to a place where we love our space and that is why I am excited to share with you about Melissa’s new book, Love the Home You Have.

Love Your Home Challenge

This book is so inspiring and is the book that I wish someone would have handed me when we purchased our little house. It is all about making the most of the space you are in and learning to love your space… no matter what kind of space it is. Melissa lived in some spaces that definitely were not her dream homes before settling into the home she is now. She takes you on that journey and shares those real thoughts about those spaces and how she made each home her own.

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.  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.

In celebration of her book launch, here are 5 ways I have fallen in love with the home I have.

Love Your Home Challenge

1. We are constantly decluttering our space to make room for the good stuff. This year I have reduced our belongings by about 50%, but I always know that I can do more. Having a bag going at all times helps me get rid of the excess to create room for the spaces we really love. Having a smaller home really holds you accountable to your belongings because there is just nowhere to store the excess. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love Your Home Challenge

janet-hill

Love Your Home Challenge

Love Your Home Challenge

2. We have made the space personal to us. One of the things that I am the most proud of in our space is that it is tailored so much to our own style. From the artwork we select to the handmade additions like wreaths, yarn-wrapped letters, and knitted centerpieces, the first thing people say when they come to our house is, “This house is so you.” I think that acknowledging our own style in the details is what adds charm to our home.

Love Your Home Challenge

3. We utilize every corner of our space.  As we have slowly been remodeling the spaces in our home, the one thing I am most proud of is our ability to use every square inch in our space. A storage shed, for example, became a beautiful bonus room that is now a retreat for our family. A never used corner in our bathroom became the perfect place for a shower.  My office once had a rarely used seating area that with the addition of a small fireplace has become my go-to spot after a long day. Looking at the corners in a new light has made all the difference in my appreciation of our space.

Love Your Home Challenge

4. We never stop dreaming of how to improve the space we are in. The nice thing about creating your home more slowly is that you have the time to save and dream of what you want to do next to your house.  Once the structural things were taken care of, we now could dream and save for the fun stuff. I keep a private Pinterest board going of home ideas and tuck them away for future projects.  Even if I know we can’t do it for years, there is so much contentment in just knowing what direction we want to take things in someday that replaces the disatisfaction of the space.

Love Your Home Challenge

5. We know now that this is right where we belong. The other night we browsed through realtor photos of homes that were on the market. We browse homes well out of our price range a lot to get ideas for our space. You know what we always discover? We could spend a million dollars on a home (which we couldn’t, but you know…) and we would STILL have to gut and renovate the space. As each corner is transformed in our little tri-level fixer-upper, we see things we love about it more than any other home on the market. That, my friends, is when you know that you love the home you have. We couldn’t be happier!

Love Your Home Challenge

Of course, the added bonus with living within our means and having less is that we can do more good stuff for others. How lucky are we?

Love Your Home Challenge

Reluctant Entertainer /Julie Blanner / Mom Advice / Sawdust Girl / Liz Marie Blog / Tidy Mom / Infarrantly Creative / Love Feast Table / Balancing Beauty and Bedlam / All Things Thrifty / Just a Girl / Emily A Clark  / My Sweet Savannah / Lemonade Makin Mama / Jones Design Company / Fieldstone Hill Design / Jenna Burger Design / DIY Show Off / Not Just a Housewife / Beneath My Heart / A Thoughtful Place / Home Stories A to Z /Southern Hospitality / My Blessed Life / Pretty Handy Girl / The Nesting Place / Shabby Nest / Funky Junk Interiors / Songbird Blog / The Shabby Creek Cottage / Miss Mustard Seed / 320 Sycamore

 Today I am joining the #LoveYourHomeChallenge with some really amazing and inspiring bloggers! To learn more about this fun challenge, head on over to The Inspired Room to see what Melissa is sharing today! I know you will leave feeling as inspired as I am.  Be sure to pick up Love the Home You Have today and be inspired to make the most of everything you have right now!

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?