Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

Community Reads for February

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Community (1)

I am a little behind this month on our Community Reads feature, but looking forward to sharing some of your book selections for February. You can read what I read this month and today’s selections include what YOU have been loving this month! Yay!

If you are a part of our MomAdvice Hangout Group, each month I will ask about what you are reading and ask for a short blurb on a book.  You can also email books you are loving to me to amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I can also add them to our monthly lists. By joining this group, you can also take part in a REALLY awesome online book club- I wouldn’t want you to miss this fun discussion and exploration of a new book each month.

My hope is to inspire you to connect with at least one incredible book this year and I hope you will enjoy this new feature with even more reads each month!

The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

Read It: The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

Recommended by: Beth from Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

I am reading this and it is AMAZING! What a fascinating story and Mr. Gortner is a true storyteller and gifted writer. Historical fiction at its finest!

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Read It: Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Recommended by: Kendra

I read Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith as a book club pick for my 7th grade daughter’s Mother-Daughter book group. It’s one of my favorite of our picks. She is a compelling character who held my interest all the way through. Not all happy endings or completely resolved plot lines but a great character driven story.

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague

Read It: Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague

Recommended by: Kendra

I started this on audiobook and wasn’t enjoying it so switched to print. For the record though, I think my daughter enjoyed Saving Lucas Biggs maybe a bit more. I’m still reading through it,  but don’t think I’ll enjoy it as much as Flygirl.

Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

Read It: Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

Recommended by: Sasha from Pathologically Literate

Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser is definitely going to be one of my favorite books of 2016. Sixteen-year-old Jenna, while searching for her addict mother at a meth dealer’s home, comes across a crying baby in a freezing room. Jenna knows instantly she must save her, and thus sets off the events of a night she will never forget. Sweetgirl moves at breakneck speed, barely giving you time to catch your breath. It is darkly humorous and sweetly, achingly heartbreaking.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Read It: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Recommended by: Enid

This was a re-read for me to lead a discussion in a book club. I have the feeling that for the next week or so, I am going to be annoying all of my reader friends by telling them they need to read this book, just like I did with The Martian (editor’s note: read our author interview) and All the Light We Cannot See (editor’s note: read our author interview). This was a very well-done take on what could have been a very melodramatic story. I loved the way the author handled flipping back and forth in time and following different characters. I had trouble putting it down.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew

Read It: Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew

Recommended by: Enid

A fun read- promising start to a new series set in South Africa. As one person said, it is a cross between The #1 Ladies Detective Agency and the Goldie Schultz books. I enjoyed the characters and the plot as well as the South African touches (although I found myself saying “now-now” today). I will definitely read the second book in the series, if there is one.

The Revenant by Michael Punke

Read It: The Revenant by Michael Punke

Recommended by: Enid

I really enjoyed this quick read, and I found it hard to put down. I was worried that the descriptions of the various attacks and the injuries would be too intense for me, but that was not the case- there was enough detail so the reader could understand the amount of trauma, but there was no lingering over gory details. The main character is based on a pretty amazing guy. However, I do feel the subtitle is a bit misleading- I will leave it at that in order to not be more of a spoiler. If you are looking for a story that grabs you right from the start, give this a try.

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Read It: The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Recommended by: Tanya

This was a memoir of the life of polygamy from the eyes of a child. Very eye opening to see her struggles and hardships in life.

The Battle For Room 314

Read It: The Battle for Room 314 by Ed Boland

Recommended by: Cindy from Hello Dollface

This is an excellent book about a man’s experience leaving his well-paying job to become a teacher to teach in a tough NYC high school.

MomAdvice.com Community Reads for February

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get these books and read them myself! What did you read this month that you loved? Feel free to recommend your favorite reads below or join us in the group to chat about your favorites! We love new friends!

This post contains affiliate links. I fully trust and back my community of readers and their opinions on their favorite books!

 

 

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Amy’s Notebook 03.02.16

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

Decorate around a piano via Apartment Therapy

Source: Apartment Therapy

 

13 ways to decorate around a piano.

Build your spring wardrobe with these basics.

Bram Stoker Award nominees- I am going to have to check these out!

Nigella Lawson’s Chinese-inspired chicken soup looks so comforting and delicious.

15 Chrome extensions you’ll need if you’re looking to boost productivity.

Stop getting mad at your kids for wanting stuff at Target.

I absolutely love this literary quest. Girl power!

Homemade Jam via WonderHowTo

Source: WonderHowTo

 

Homemade jam in just ten minutes.

DIY leather tassels- I want to make a dozen!

8 apps you can turn to for everything from shipping packages to choosing beauty products.

Pinterest-dictated fashion for one week- what a fun experiment!

Warning: “Hanging in There” is destroying your health.

Audiobook versions of the classics, read by famous people.

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!

 

Sundays With Writers: No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to have my first author returning to our Sundays With Writers series. Suzanne Redfearn happened to be the first writer I ever reached out to for our interview series after I read her incredibly fast-paced thriller, Hush Little BabyToday she joins me again with a very different book from her first that made me think a lot about what it would like to be a child star and the challenges a parent would face in her new novel, No Ordinary Life.

No Ordinary LIfe by Suzanne Redfearn

I am a big fan of Suzanne Redfearn and this book does not disappoint!

In this quick page-turner, a single mother’s daughter is discovered after a YouTube video goes viral of her singing and dancing, at the tender age of four. She is immediately picked up for commercial work and then auditions & wins a lead role in a television show. Going from having nothing to having everything, you follow this mother as she juggles the demands of being a stage mom, the intrusive media, and protecting her children from Hollywood & her ex who just wants the biggest piece of the financial pie.

Redfearn effectively utilizes other famous stars and their stories to craft a compelling piece on the many pitfalls of growing up a child star and the rarity of survival in the industry.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Suzanne as she shares more behind her latest book!

suzanne-redfearn

You are our first author that I have gotten to interview twice in our Sundays With Writers series and I am so honored to feature your latest book, No Ordinary Life It was actually your interview that kicked off the whole series, if you can believe it! I really enjoyed your fast-paced thriller, Hush Little Baby so I was expecting another thriller again, but you took a completely different route and share the story of a child who has been discovered and begins a Hollywood career. What was it about this topic that interested you that you would want to write an entire book about it?

Wow, that is so amazing. I love that I was your first author for the series. Thank you for inviting me back. I actually had no idea this topic would be as interesting as it was. I knew my publisher wanted me to write another story about a mother protecting her children, and I was standing in line at the grocery store when I saw a headline that read, “Zac Efron Enters Rehab Again.” My daughter was a huge High School Musical fan when she was young, so I felt like I had watched Zac Efron grow up, and to know he was suffering and that his suffering was made public made me feel horrible for him and his parents. The idea Child Star popped in my head. At that point I wasn’t certain what the story was going to be, but I liked the idea of exploring what goes on behind the glitz and glamour that causes so many young actors’ to suffer such tragic setbacks and downfalls.

Shirley Temple

You have said that you have drawn a lot of inspiration from the childhood careers of Jodie Foster and Shirley Temple. What was it about these two child stars in particular that interested you in helping shape Molly?

I believe certain stars are destined for greatness. They have the “it” factor. Both Jodie Foster and Shirley Temple had it in spades. They were extraordinarily precocious, and the moment the spotlight found them, they were certain to soar to superstardom. I needed Molly to be like that, her star a runaway train that would make it nearly impossible for her mom to control.

YouTube was the avenue of discovery for Molly although it was a video posted by someone else that actually got her discovered. Do you think that this violates our privacy rights if someone has not agreed to have it socially shared? Would you be upset if someone posted a video of your child without permission?

It is a complicated question. I do feel our children need to be protected and yet trying to control videos being posted on social media seems like an impossible task. Molly’s dance was an innocent street performance and did not show her doing anything unseemly. What happened was more a result of how Faye dealt with the sudden notoriety rather than the notoriety itself. I suppose if the posting of a video resulted in direct damage to someone, the person who posted it should be liable, but I don’t think that was the case with Molly. And yes, I would be upset if someone posted a video of my child without my permission. It does seem like a violation. So I don’t know. Good question, one that would be a good topic for debate.

There is a pretty dramatic airport scene in this book where Molly is tired and throwing a tantrum while the mother is being engulfed in paparazzi in this difficult parenting moment. Did you bring your own parenting struggles in to shape this difficult mom moment? Has this changed your viewpoint at all on celebrity magazines and their tactics of reporting or did you already have strong feelings about that?

That is my favorite scene in the book. Thank you for asking about it. I love the airport scene. As a mom, it was the scene that affected me the most. I was once in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond when my daughter had a meltdown because I wouldn’t buy her a toy she desperately wanted. For twenty minutes I stood there while she screamed and tantrumed with people walking by with either sympathetic expressions or judgmental frowns. It was the worst feeling, and to imagine something like that happening while dozens of photographers documented it, knowing it was going to be plastered in every tabloid and shown on every celebrity gossip show in the world made my heart split in two with sympathy for Faye. It was the pinnacle moment in the story that illustrated how out of control Faye’s life had become.

Do you think you would let your child pursue a career in Hollywood after doing this research for your book? Did reading more of their struggles and their parent’s struggles make you more sympathetic to the challenges of their work?

I would not, but after writing this story, I am also not one to cast stones. It is easy for me to say I would not put my child in that world when I live in a nice house with a secure future, my children well provided for. I understand why Faye did what she did. I am not certain it was the right decision, but I am sympathetic to it. This is one story, and though it is based in part on stories I read of former young actors, it is fiction. Many former young actors have gone on to live successful, trouble-free lives and look back on their years in the spotlight with gratitude and fondness.

If we are interested in reading more about child stars and their families, what were some of your favorite reads or documentaries so we can check them out too?

Diary of  Stage Mother's Daughter by Melissa Francis

My favorite autobiography was by Melissa Francis (youngest Ingall on Little House on the Prarie). Her book was called Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter and it was a heart wrenching about what fame did to her family. Also Justin Bieber’s mom wrote an autobiography titled, Nowhere but Up, and it is a frank look at her life and Justin Bieber’s rocket ride to superstardom and how a child can be swept up into the dangerous world of celebrity and a parent left struggling to hold on. There is also a movie about Shirley Temple’s life, Child Star that was fascinating.

The Coogan Law requires that fifteen percent of a minor’s earnings be set aside in a trust until they are eighteen so a child star can end up with little or no money. Do you think that the current set-up is fair and do you think the family is entitled to a portion of those earnings after researching this topic and what a juggle it is for the entire family?

Unfortunately the law has loopholes, and many young actors still find themselves with nothing or very little when they become adults. I think the laws in regard to child performers definitely need to be reexamined and parents need to be held accountable for making sure a child’s earnings are protected. A family should be compensated for the work they do in regards to helping a child actor be successful, but it needs to be a minor percentage not the majority.

Many readers may be unaware that you actually have a background as an architect. Are you still working in architecture and how has that career background helped you as a writer?

I still love architecture, but writing has become full-time work for me. I find the two processes remarkably similar, and I find my architecture training really influences my writing. In architecture when I begin a project, I start with an inkling of an idea then set to work researching the site, the clients, the surroundings, and the history around it, then I throw as many ideas as come to me down on paper and see what comes of it, waiting for the “terroir” (a wine making term that means the specific characteristics of a vineyard) to determine what the project wants to be—the sculpture hidden within the stone so to speak. Writing is the same. I start with the germ of an idea—celebrity and what it does to a person and the people around them—then I research everything I can about the subject, going wherever the idea takes me and not censoring myself at all, trusting that every path will lead me closer to the story. Then I write, write, write—pages and pages of notes, passages, dialog, chapters, plotlines—until the characters begin to emerge and the story begins to tell itself, the single right story that wants to be told.

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

My favorite all-time book is The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

You can connect with Suzanne Redfearn on her website or through Facebook!  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!

February 2016 Must-Reads

Friday, February 26th, 2016

February 2016 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I couldn’t let a month go by and not share some reads with you. First of all, I just wanted to thank you for your kind words this month. It’s been a challenging month personally and professionally for me, but I’m trying not to lean in on the diagnosis and only use it as an ability to understand more how to stay strong going forward. I’m living at the gym and working hard on strength training and working on better form.

You will even find me in the kitchen doing hand strengthening exercises (you should see my pencil baton twirling!) to try and keep my digits going while I’m stirring pots.

I know we have a road ahead, but each day I’m feeling a little better and I am so thankful to you all for all the words, blog posts to sustain the site, prayers, and offerings for our family!  You truly discover your people when things like this happen and I am so thankful for mine.

Here are also 7 great books I enjoyed this month that I think you will love too! 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time,”- Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

This book is an incredibly moving story of the fragility of life and death told through Paul’s incredible medical career working as a neurosurgeon and then as a patient facing the end of his own life. Even after a cancer diagnosis, his ability to train and put his own needs aside while still working tirelessly in an operating room are nothing short of miraculous and his words echo the poetic strength of a life well lived.

Lucy’s closing to the book brings it all together in such a beautiful and memorable way that reminds us that all we should ever strive for in our life is to be and give unconditional love.

5 Out of 5 Stars

No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn

No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn

I received an ARC from NetGalley. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

I am a big fan of Suzanne Redfearn (be sure to read her first book Hush Little Baby and our interview with the author)  and this book does not disappoint. In this quick page-turner, a single mother’s daughter is discovered after a YouTube video goes viral of her singing and dancing, at the tender age of four. She is immediately picked up for commercial work and then auditions & wins a lead role in a television show. Going from having nothing to having everything, you follow this mother as she juggles the demands of being a stage mom, the intrusive media, and protecting her children from Hollywood & her ex who just wants the biggest piece of the financial pie.

Redfearn effectively utilizes other famous stars and their stories to craft a compelling piece on the many pitfalls of growing up a child star and the rarity of survival in the industry.

Suzanne will be joining us this month for a Sundays With Writers about this book and I can’t wait to share more about her inspiration for this story!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington

Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington

Alli is a great friend of mine and she shared a copy of her book with me this month which was such a treat. I can always trim some excess from my life so I was excited into this one.

Alli  tackles the topic of busy by guiding us through her own busy struggles and missteps that has lead her to a more peaceful life. With candid humor and a whole lot of scripture, she shows how God desires for us to slow down for Him.

The way this book is set up, with thought starters and questions at the end of each chapter, it would lend itself well to a personal morning devotion or a great book to work through as a Bible study. Additional online resources are also made available to assist with prioritizing and decision making and to reinforce your habits of breaking busy. I would recommend this one for fans of Jen Hatmaker, thanks to the humor and honesty that is peppered throughout this book!

Alli will be joining us in a future Sundays With Writers and I look forward to sharing more behind her book soon!

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

Macmillan delivers a solid thriller that left me guessing right up until the final pages. Narration is done well through the eyes of the detective, the mother, and social media outlets who tell the story of an eight year-old boy who goes missing on a walk with his mother in the woods.

The author weaves enough loose ends to create a well curated variety of suspects that lead you down the wrong trails in the woods yourself and creates great tension as the stability of the child’s own mother comes into question.

The book could have been edited in length as the story did drag a bit, but I still really enjoyed it!

I’m thrilled that Gilly will be joining us this month on our Sundays With Writers series to share more about her story behind this incredible debut novel! You won’t want to miss it!

4 Out of 5 Stars

the-immortals

The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1) by Jordanna Max Brodsky

I received an ARC from the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Immortals is an ambitious modern day retelling of Greek mythology set in the city of Manhattan. Selene, also known as Artemis, is a woman intent on making men pay for crimes against women. Amidst her vengeance on these men, she stumbles upon the body of a young woman washed ashore, who has been gruesomely mutilated and wreathed in laurel. She finds her ancient rage returning and forms an unlikely partnership with the woman’s former lover as they try to figure out who this serial killer is that is performing ritualistic killings in their city. Fans of Greek mythology will swim in this fresh retelling of these ancient stories.

Jordanna will also be joining us this month in a future Sundays With Writers and I look forward to sharing more about the research and travel she did to recreate Greek mythology with this modern spin!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer- do not read if you cannot handle graphic sexual abuse or violence against women!

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

As a lover of horror films and fiction, I can say that this book is the first book that has absolutely terrified me and kept me up at with nightmares at night…and I loved it. Slaughter perfectly crafts each character so well that it is as though you are watching a film. Dark, psychologically twisted, evil, and graphic, the tale is gruesome and horrific and kept me on the absolute edge of my seat from the opening page. Fans of Gillian Flynn will appreciate this twisted thriller, but be prepared for the nightmares…they will be coming! 

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley- The Swans of Fifth Avenue  is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

You can really tell that Benjamin is passionate about this era and the telling of the story of Truman Capote and his swans. I think the challenge with this story is that many of these characters are so unlikable and not easy to relate to. Benjamin beautifully adds depth though in her fictional retelling of Capote and the ladies that grew to love him, that shows that all he wanted in life was the love of his mother. 

As someone who was unfamiliar with his life story, I had a great time reading all of the stories and hunting for the pictures of all these elite ladies after I finished this one. There is lots of glamour and backstabbing that reads a bit like a good gossip magazine. 

Be sure to catch our Sundays With Writers with Melanie Benjamin this month!

4 Out of 5 Stars

February 2016 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

Read With Me This Year:

2016-Reading

January 2016 Must-Reads

February 2016 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

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.

 

 

Amy’s Notebook 02.24.16

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Crochet Chunky Blanket via Make It-Love It

Source: Make It & Love It

 

How to crochet a chunky blanket- a fun, affordable beginner project!

The big list of book lists- be still my beating heart.

Accessories for beginners.

11 easy ways to fancy up your avocado toast.

The power of buying less by buying better.

I can’t wait to try this hummus hack!!

25 beautiful life reminders that I needed to read today!

Pigs in Blankets via Shutterbean

Source: Shutterbean

 

Pigs in blankets- a fun dinner idea!

Friends fans will love this one too.

Cheap online classes to boost your digital skills- a great goal for this year!

Excited to see this book unfold on the big screen.

It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be perfect.

Cook Monica’s best dishes from Friends- I love it!

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!

 

Amy’s Notebook 02.17.16

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Grits Breadfast Parfait via The Kitchn

Source: The Kitchn

 

Savory grits breakfast parfaits- what a delicious breakfast idea!

14 true crime books you should read.

Are you watching this series? Here is what Marcia Clark thinks about it.

Balsamic chicken with roasted vegetables- get in my belly!

This DIY beaded chandelier is amazing.

Degas Dance Recreation via Hello Giggles

Source: Hello Giggles

 

Misty Copeland recreates Degas masterpieces and it’s too gorgeous for words.

Dreaming of returning to Italy, but will tackle this list until we can make that happen!

13 gorgeous DIY tidy tips and organization hacks.

Healthy 3-ingredient fruit rolls-ups to make anytime.

It’s not about suspense; it’s about survival.

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!

Sundays With Writers: The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I had to take a little hiatus on our Sundays With Writers series simply because I had to really buckle down and read some new books so we could begin featuring more incredible writers on our site.  Today it thrills me to get to share an interview with Melanie Benjamin to discuss her latest novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I have read every single book written by her and have loved them all. If you haven’t dug into her other books check out The Aviator’s Wife, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, & Alice I Have Been for some REALLY fantastic historical fiction escapes. She has a way of exploring moments in history with such fresh eyes that I have adored her work for many years.

Yup, I am a gushing fan girl!

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley- The Swans of Fifth Avenue  is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

You can really tell that Benjamin is passionate about this era and the telling of the story of Truman Capote and his swans. I think the challenge with this story is that many of these characters are so unlikable and not easy to relate to. Benjamin beautifully adds depth though in her fictional retelling of Capote and the ladies that grew to love him, that shows that all he wanted in life was the love of his mother. 

As someone who was unfamiliar with his life story, I had a great time reading all of the stories and hunting for the pictures of all these elite ladies after I finished this one. There is lots of glamour and backstabbing that reads a bit like a good gossip magazine. 

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Melanie Benjamin about her latest book today!

Melanie Benjamin

Before we dive into The Swans of Fifth Avenue, your incredible new novel, I wanted to ask you a question that I have been curious about for quite some time. Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym and how does that work for an author? Did you select a name, did your publishing house, or was it a combination of working together to create this?

I published 2 books, 10 years ago, under my real name but those books were not successful.  I found that in order to be published again, particularly once moving to historical fiction, I needed to submit under a pseudonym – something that happens more often than you might think.  I chose the name, combining my first name with my son’s first name.

Truman Capote

 Although a huge fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie version, I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with Truman Capote and his career and social climb with the book. I understand that in your teens you were familiar with the Truman Capote towards the end of his career, but you were less familiar with the beginning of his story. What compelled you to want to research him and what do you think was the most surprising fact you uncovered about him when you first started researching his story?

I simply came across the only book I owned written by him, this book called Answered Prayers.”  (I have often found inspiration for my novels in my own bookshelves; this is how I wrote THE AVIATOR’S WIFE, by re-reading a biography of Charles Lindbergh that I’d read years before.)  While paging through this book I came across the short story “La Cote Basque 1965,” and had a vague recollection that the publication of this short story had resulted in a significant literary scandal, which I immediately realized might be a juicy topic for a novel.  And then I was off!

Babe Paley

All of Truman’s swans had such interesting lives, but the one swan that really stood out for me was Babe Paley, who worked so very hard to be the perfect trophy wife. Even Truman has been quoted as saying, “Babe Paley had only one fault. She was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect.”

You really pull back the curtain though and show what a strain that was on Babe and her inability to allow anyone to see her flaws. Do you think she suffered from OCD or do you think the traumatic car accident she was in and her upbringing made her unable to show her true self to people?

 I think she was a creative woman who was told to stifle that creative impulse in order to do what she was raised to do, what her mother expected of her:  Marry, and marry spectacularly.  This sublimation of her creativity meant that she had no outlet other than making sure her life, and that of her husband, was, at least on the surface, perfect.  And she did pour her entire self into making that so – at least, to the naked eye.  That kind of sublimation means that you can’t show your real, ugly, messy, vulnerable side to people; they simply don’t expect it of you and wouldn’t know what to do.  But with Truman, for some reason, she felt she could be herself, and show that imperfect side of her personality. 

Truly, one of my favorite scenes that you carved in this book was when Babe & Truman go to the movie theater and Truman is crying because he relates so much to Pinocchio and his desire to be a real boy because he has never felt like one. Did Truman share about rejection from his mother because of his sexuality or is this something that you wanted to fictionally explore?

It’s fairly well documented that Truman had a very uneasy relationship with his mother.  She basically abandoned him as a child, and when she did send for him, when he was around the age of ten, she had a very difficult time accepting him as he was – an unashamed homosexual, different, even as a young man.  He never tried to be anything other than who he was.  But his mother forced him to attend military school – an absolute disaster – and simply could not accept his homosexuality.  So I didn’t make those facts up; they are recorded.  But what I explore, as a novelist, is the way Truman reacted to this; the real toll he never felt comfortable sharing.   In front of most everyone in his life, Truman joked everything away, or chose not to tell the truth at all, significantly embellishing his memories and experiences.  While focusing on his relationship with Babe—and truly, only the two of them knew what drew them to each other, and what cemented this unusual, passionate relationship—I had to imagine, then, that to Babe, he did reveal the psychological scars.

You have curated a fantastic guide to following in the footsteps of the swans. Did you visit, stay, or eat at any of the places that were featured in your guide? Which of these experiences made you feel most like a swan yourself?

Yes, I did!  I think having tea at the St. Regis made me feel the most swan-like.  It was elegant, but not intimidating.  I felt the Plaza was more intimidating.  Bergdorf’s, too.  But I loved the St. Regis!

Due to Truman’s inability to create the next great book, he publishes the secrets of the swans in the short story that ends up kicking him out of the inner circle. Did you sympathize with Truman as a writer and that desperation to create the next big thing?

Yes, and no.  I’ve never feared running out of stories to tell.  But I’ve also not had the life-changing experience, the instant, world-wide celebrity that Truman enjoyed after IN COLD BLOOD was published.  Part of me understood his desire to relax and enjoy the fame that came his way; he’d worked for years on the book, and that takes a toll.  But I really did mourn how he wasted his talent, after that.  Early on, Truman was the most disciplined of writers.  After IN COLD BLOOD, he was not.

Donald J Pliner Booties

(follow Melanie Benjamin on Facebook so you can see her cute shoe collection!)

I understand that you love to treat yourself to new shoes for your book tours. As someone who is a bit shoe obsessed, I can appreciate this! What shoes did you treat yourself to for this tour and do you think they would be swan-approved?

I have a pair of fabulous Donald J. Pliner booties that have really turned out to be workhorses (editor’s note- I found a similar budget-friendly pair for you, dear readers!).  In that—they’re comfortable, they look great with everything!  I also bought some L.K. Bennet snakeskin (fake, I think!) pumps that, unfortunately, have not worked out so well.  The first time I wore them, they stretched out so that my foot was sliding, and then I tore some of the snakeskin print on the heels.  I’m going to take them to a shoe repair place and see if I can salvage them.  They’re so pretty!  And they cost so much!   But I do think both pairs would be swan-approved (although probably far too cheap, for the Swans.  I’m sure they went for Ferragamo and Prada.).

If we want to explore the story of Truman Capote or the swans more, what was your favorite book and/or documentary that you can recommend so we can dive more into the story after reading your book?

I recommend several books in my author’s note at the end of THE SWANS.  Any of these would be great, but I suppose the most comprehensive is Gerald Clarke’s biography.

 Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

Moss Hart’s ACT ONE.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

You can connect with Melanie Benjamin on her website or through Facebook!  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: 10-Day Manicure, Keeping Current, and Fashionable Sneakers

Friday, February 12th, 2016

It's the 3 Little Things

I’m so excited to introduce you to one of my blogging besties, Kelly from Redefined Mom. You will be hearing more about her and a new business adventure she is doing next week from me, but for now just know that she is one of my favorite people to drink wine with, to talk shop with, and to laugh with. Her blog is a fantastic resource for fashion and beauty! After you are done with this, head on over there and check it out. She’s amazing and I hope you enjoy her favorite things list this week!  

Hi, y’all.

(‘Cause that is what we say when we are minutes from the Missouri border. Real words become phrases with hyphens in them. Don’t be scared. It’s just how we act.)

When Amy asked me to guest post, I was thrilled. I’ve been an avid MomAdvice.com reader for years and I LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. her “3 Things” posts. So much so, that I started a weekly “I LOVE THESE THINGS” post on my own blog, Redefined Mom.

It took me awhile to pick my MOST FAVORITE THREE THINGS EVER to share with you.

(Oh, I probably also forgot to mention that I love to write with ALL CAPS and periods ….. a lot. We like to embellish our words in Kansas City with a grammatical bling. It’s like rhinestones, only different.)

After much soul searching (because I needed to make sure it was an AMAZING group of things…gotta keep up with Amy, ya know?), here are my MOST FAVORITE THREE THINGS to share with you.

CND Power Polish

1. My Secret To A 10-Day Manicure

I was a gel manicure devotee. I loved having chip-free, super shiny nails. But my addiction was wrecking HAVOC on my nails. When I’d take the polish off, it looked my nails got attacked by a lawn mower.

A friend told me about CND Vinylux Top Coat, and while it kept nails chip-free for 10 days, I found that CND does a poor job of keeping nails SHINY for 10-days. And who likes dull polish? Um…NO ONE!!!

It was when I added the Sally Hansen Clearly Quick on top of the CND Top Coat that MAGIC happened.

First, Sally Hansen polish helps cut the drying time in half. Second, it creates a chip-free, super shiny existence for 10 days. And finally, for $4, the price can’t be beat.

Added bonus, I can use it with any regular fingernail polish.

Rock on, shiny nails. Rock on!!

the skimm

2. theSkimm

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I don’t watch the news or read online news sites. Partly because I get sick of the sensationalized media and partly because I’m lazy.

Since this year is an election year, I vowed that I would not be “one of those people”.

… ‘ya know, people who have opinions on EVERYTHING and usually post it all over Facebook, but no facts to back it up.

Enter theSkimm.

theSkimm makes it easier to be smarter. It’s a FREE daily email newsletter that arrives in your inbox around 6am (M-F) that’s your secret weapon for the day. It breaks down all you need to stay in the know and jump into conversation—it’s smart, witty, and quick.

Each morning I read the top headlines of the day’s “news” from my phone in the time it takes me to drink my first cup of coffee. Plus, if I want to do a deep dive into something, it provides me multiple links to “get educated”.

Rock on, smart mamas. Rock on!!!

VANS Tennis Shoes

3. VANS Tennis Shoes

On Redefined Mom, I do a few fashion posts. And as I was doing research for upcoming trends, I saw a number of women wearing adorable slip-on tennis shoes with their skinny and cropped jeans.

Fashion tennis shoes are a funny thing, too. It’s easy to “just get a cheap pair from Target” and throw them away after a season or two. The problem with going the cheap route is you usually end up with uncomfortable shoes. And uncomfortable shoes are no bueno.

So upgrade I did and I’m SO GLAD THAT I DID.

I’m in LOVE with my VANS Slip-On Tennis Shoes. They are so COMFORTABLE…so much so, I’m wondering why women ever went through the Sperry Boat Shoe rage.

Vans have such fun patterns and material (love the faux leather), too. Plus, you look a little “skater-punk-bad-ass” in the process.

Rock on, skater mama. Rock on!!

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

The Virtual Librarian Experience: Keep it Clean and Inspiring

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

The MomAdviceVirtual Librarian (2)

I am loving the chance to be a librarian for you and today I am featuring a reader looking for clean and inspiring reads. I will do my best to fulfill that criteria with a small caution that many of these books were read years ago and may not be as squeaky clean as I remembered them (*ahem*). I love sharing books that have inspiring storylines though and am looking forward to making a few great selections for our reader today!

If you would like me to pick some books for you, just fill out this quick questionnaire and submit it. I will send you an email when your post is live to let you know my favorite picks for you! You can also leave comments on books you would recommend for this reader too in our comment section below!

Reader

Reader Profile

Name?

Lori

What is Your Favorite Book Genre?

Nonfiction

Who Are Your Favorite Authors?

Susan Schaeffer-Macaulay, Leo Buscaglia, Jan Karon

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

What is Your Favorite Book of All-Time? 

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

What Do You Look for In a Book?

It must be clean; it must be inspiring by teaching me something or encouraging me to live better.

The MomAdviceVirtual Librarian (2)

The Virtual Librarian Selects…

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

If you are into vivid storytellers, William Kent Krueger’s novel is a book for you.  This novel is set in 1961 in New Bremen, Minnesota and is told through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Frank Drum.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives.

This is a beautiful coming of age story that reminds us of our youth. While I was able to figure out the killer early on in the story, as this is meant to be a mystery, it did not take away from the beautiful writing that filled the pages. I really enjoyed the book and the author’s carefully crafted characters that made this story read more like a memoir than a piece of fiction.

I think this will be a fantastic one for Lori because the story is about a Methodist minister and is a beautifully told coming of age story.  Definitely read the interview with William Kent Krueger about his inspiration for this moving tale.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Since Lori’s request is to be inspired, I had to put The Power of One on her reading list. 

There is so much good in this book about the power one person can have over another. Peekay endures terrible cruelty from his peers that most children would never pull through bravely. It is through the influence of one great man after another that his life is transformed from a victim to a fighter and we are reminded how with one small gesture or a few words of motivation, you have the ability to transform someone’s entire path. Lots of big life lessons in this novel that are so inspiring. I doubt you could read it and not feel transformed yourself by Peekay’s beautiful journey!

You get to witness the heartbreaks and triumphs of boyhood in this beautiful coming-of-age story. It would lend itself well to a book club discussion and would be an incredible book to even read with your teen!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I happened to have just finished an inspiring read this week so I thought I would include this one for Lori today. 

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.

This book is an incredibly moving story of the fragility of life and death told through Paul’s incredible medical career working as a neurosurgeon and then as a patient facing the end of his own life. Even after a cancer diagnosis, his ability to train and put his own needs aside while still working tirelessly in an operating room are nothing short of miraculous and his words echo the poetic strength of a life well lived.

His wife finishes the book in a way that brought tears to my eyes and reminds us of the strength needed for those still living on.  The ending is such a beautiful and memorable nod that reminds us that all we should ever strive for in our life is to be and give unconditional love.

Although there is some language in this one, I think it is appropriate in the telling of this emotional story.

7 by Jen Hatmaker

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

Looking for Christian literature with a big dash of humor? Lori will not only be inspired by Jen Hatmaker, but I am guessing she will even laugh at her hilarious writing too! 

With her signature wit, Jen Hatmaker takes a year-long fast for Jesus, tackling one excess after another in the average American life. From whittling down her closet to seven items, to eating only seven foods, to reducing her waste, to trimming her spending; she documents her daily struggles and triumphs through the lessons learned.

What really pulled through for me most was how much we take for granted and how, with a bit of trimming, we have the ability to transform the lives of the poor. If we are to love Jesus, we are to love the poor like He did. Not only are we reminded about our own individual choices, but she really sheds light on the excessive spending of churches, money spent only on themselves when it could be better served for the greater needs of the world. This comes up often in the book as Jen’s church has chosen to spend on those in need rather than their own building and selves.

It would be impossible to read this book and not feel moved to give more. Although I would consider myself a minimalist, there is ALWAYS room for improvement and this gave me a lot of food for thought. I shed many tears through this one for those in need and unwanted. While expecting a light read, Jen delivered a life-changing practice that we could all be challenged to try.

Since Lori is looking for inspiration in her life, I think she will enjoy Jen’s inspiring tale of ridding her life of excess and the challenges it brought to her life.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

There is a certain richness that comes with great Southern storytelling and this amazing book by Jenny Wingfield is laced with that type of richness I am speaking of and beautiful storytelling that you can picture just like a movie screen. I think Lori will get positively swept away into this beautiful novel! 

Samuel Lake, his wife Willadee (Moses), and their three children find themselves back home in Arkansas after Samuel finds himself out of work as a minister. When tragedy strikes, the family bands together in unlikely ways and find their faith is challenged to the core of even God’s most faithful. The book offers the story of spunky Swan Lake (yes, her family did name her that), an unlikely little boy that the family takes in as their own, a town villain that has made it his life’s mission to make their family’s life miserable, and Toy, Swan’s uncle, who becomes her unlikely hero.

Each character is so vividly told with his/her own story line that Wingfield magically weaves together to create an incredible story that will stick with you long after you close the book. I can’t recommend this one enough!

What would you pick out for Lori based on her preferences? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love though! Dig into the Virtual Librarian series this year for more great selections! 

 

Amy’s Notebook 02.10.16

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Make a Pom-Pom Rug via eHow

Source: eHow

 

Adorable pom-pom rug- be still my beating heart.

Baked eggs with veggies…yes, please.

NPR’s book concierge guide to kid’s books- bookmarking!

8 secrets of people who don’t have clutter.

Loving this capsule wardrobe inspiration!

What a great pizza stone hack.

I’m printing these out for my hubby! Ha!

Valentine Pencil Flags via Oh Happy Day

Source: Oh Happy Day

 

Valentine’s pencil flags DIY- adorable!

I was doing dry shampoo all wrong.

Decrapify your life with this perfect challenge.

How to create an open closet system- excellent ideas for homes with little closets.

Gretchen Rubin answers how she reads so much.

I love this challenge to write a fan letter this month! #FanFeb

10 great habits you can build around food- love these tips.

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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