Category Archives: Book Review

Summer Reads {including my current obsession with Lin-Manuel}

What I love about summer? More reading time. One day I told Paige we were having a reading hour right in the middle of the morning. We laid on my bed for a whole hour and read. It was quite blissful and I vowed to make a daily habit. It wasn’t, but I encourage you to lay aside tasks and chores and television for more words and books.

Paige finished the 7th Harry Potter book – a huge feat for a 9-year-old, but especially gratifying as this was my child who did not care much for reading; it was too hard! But then she discovered Harry. She was in mourning for days with a beloved Harry book to read, but I pushed Laura Ingalls and she’s enamored with a whole other world once again.

I just love good books. Here are my summer reads: what I loved and what I didn’t.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Covers WWII in France and serves as a warning of how insidious Hitler’s type of evil can spread. Hard to read at times as it deals with the choices mothers and fathers are forced to make during wartime. Really well written and definitely worth the read! And it will make you cry and pray for peace.

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2. The Book of Mormon: I read this often, almost everyday, and always learn new life insights. It’s changed my life. And it’s free 🙂

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3. Food Matters by Mark Bittman: Terrific, easy, unprocessed food and recipes.

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4. God Wants a Powerful People by Sheri Dew: Another life-changing book. Empowering.

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5. The Self-Care Solution by Julie Burton: Julie reached out to me and asked if I would read and review her new book. It was terrific, a read mothers should read, study, and heed. I’ve got a copy to give away to the first person who asks! I’d love to send it your way. Congrats, Julie!

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6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I resisted for months – who dares to complicate or cast a shadow on my favorite of books, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Alas, I opened the book and was quite delighted with Scout, all grown up. There’s so much controversy over the discovery of this manuscript (Google it – fascinating!), but I’m most intrigued by the fact it was the first draft of what would become her great classic. It shows the great power of an editor!

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7. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: I just love that DiCamillo, whatever she writes!

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8. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: I loved this. The movie is coming out in September and Cope and I will be first in line! A great love story. How far would you go for the one you loved? Would you let your wife keep a baby that wasn’t really hers – even under serendipitous circumstances? What would you do if someone tried to take away your only child? The writing is tremendous – and you will cry! My favorite type of book 🙂

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9. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: My BFF librarian, Gail, ordered Moriarty’s new book and personally handed it over as soon as it came in. What a gal, right!? As always, Moriarty nails character. She always makes me laugh and think. I didn’t love the plot as much as her other books, but I still enjoyed the read.

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10. Hamilton, The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: This book is the score, with footnotes on how each original Broadway cast member was cast, and the long road of writing such a brilliant work of art. Hamilton, the Musical is now an 11-times Tony-award winning hip-hop musical on broadway. Don’t like musicals? Put that aside. This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or listened to.

Have you ever wondered how a tiny band of scholars and mercenaries defeated the greatest superpower in the world? And then went on to write a Bill of Rights and Constitution, something never before seen or heard in the world?

Do you know anything about Alexander Hamilton? “Every other founding father’s story gets told. Every other founding father gets to grow old.” Lin-Manuel has put Hamilton’s extraordinary life to music in the form of a rap: “How does a rag tag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”

I’m OBSESSED with the genius of it all. Back story: Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Rob Chernow. He was struck by the brilliant, young, ambitious founding father and told his wife, “I think this could be a hip-hop musical.” She didn’t laugh. Instead: “That would be cool.” And so it began. Chernow’s book is on my list. The girls and I don’t drive anywhere without blasting and rapping Hamilton lyrics (to Nelson’s great embarrassment). There are a few expletives…beware. It will make you grateful for America, it will make you want to “rise up!”, and it will make you cry. It’s SO GOOD!

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Bestsellers I read and didn’t like:

The Swans of 5th Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (was there even one redeeming character? Maybe one.), and Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.

What I didn’t like and didn’t bother finishing:

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, but reading was a priority…and now we are plunging into the fall. But wait, what did you read and love? Do tell!

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!

If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.

Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…

2. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary: Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.

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3. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time. I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…

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You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released – a very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.

And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!

Coming in July… (I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)

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4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked every page.

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5. The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: “Mom, you HAVE to read this book!” my 11-year-old Brynne insisted. It was a very good, award-winning middle grade read set in WWII.

6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.

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7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.

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8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.

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9. The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: THIS BOOK is going to be big and deserves its own post. Joshua, of the hugely popular blog, Becoming Minimalist sent me an Advanced Reading Copy as he is about to release this gem of a book. Pre-order before May 3rd and you’ll have free access to the Minimalist class. I’m not joking: this book is a life-changer. It’s fantastic. You’ll be hearing more…

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10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.

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And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?

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Recent Reads: Books I Loved {and some I didn’t…}

A good book is an event in my life. -Stendhal

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It won the Pulitzer for heavens sake, aren’t I supposed to love it? My overall feeling: meh. If I’m going to take two months to read a 772-page book that weighs ten pounds I’d like to feel a few things: enlightened, empowered, inspired. Sadly, I felt none of those things. There is no doubt that Tartt has an immense capacity to string words into beautiful sentences. She’s very very good. I just wish I hadn’t been left feeling so…meh.

2. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. Based on a true story, I read this as Cope embarked on ocean classroom. The beginning hooked me right away, though I had trouble wading through the middle. I was left feeling thankful I’ve never had to send a loved one off to sea for two-three years. Also, thankful I’ve never had to contemplate whether or not to eat a human or starve. Wonderfully researched.

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3. Missing You by Harlan Coben. I needed something light and quick after cannibalism. Coben knows how to create a page-turner. Didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it. Feels a bit formulaic. ho-hum.

4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Nonfiction. I adore Gilbert’s writing. And if she’s going to write about writing? I snatched this one up quick! I underlined many many passages. A great read for anyone who wants to write. Big takeaway? You have a work to do. Only you can do it. So get it done and let the haters be darned! Oh, and Gilbert has this most remarkable theory regarding a big story idea, Ann Patchett, and a kiss…fascinating.

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5. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I have a new favorite author. I was hunting for some exciting, adrenaline-pumping fiction and found my match! Moriarty is so good – she nails the dialogue, the pacing, the inner thoughts we think and can’t articulate. There are a few “parts” but not too racy. I RAN to the library after I read this to get her next book, crossing my fingers I would like her as much the next time around.

6. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Oh, I was not disappointed! This was fantastic. It made me think about how we grow older with our spouse. Remember when it was all rose pedals and butterflies? Alice, our heroine, bumps her head and when she wakes up, she discovers she’s getting a divorce! She can’t remember the last ten years or that she has THREE CHILDREN. She only knows she adores her newlywed husband – what could possibly have driven them apart? IT’S SO GOOD. January, (okay, life in general!) feels so good knowing I have more Liane Moriarty books to read 🙂

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7. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This was a big winner in the middle grade world. I liked it okay.

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8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Yep, I went back for more. Here she dives into serious issues like domestic abuse with couples who live seemingly “perfect lives.” She also makes you laugh at all the right moments. OMGoodness, I love this author.

9. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sender. A beautifully written book about a great love story…you may weep. Reminded me of Pearl Buck and The Good Earth.

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10. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Okay, friendlies. If there is one book you need to read this year – THIS IS IT. It has changed my life because it has changed the way I think. It is SO incredibly powerful for me as a parent, teacher, and writer. It’s readable, filled with practical examples, and has the potential to open up worlds of opportunity. I love this book. It was our faculty’s summer reading – what a gem! READ THIS. Or you can start with Dweck’s TED talk: The Power in Believing You Can Improve.

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And that’s all for the latest edition of Recent Reads. What am I reading now? Another Liane Moriarty book…:)

What are you reading? As always, I love to hear!

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I Loved These Books…and You Might, Too

There are few things I love more than discovering a great book – and then recommending it. With Labor Day upon us, I suppose this means summer is truly coming to an end. Take heart! Perhaps you can squeeze one more book in. This summer I was determined to read more, and though I still have a stack and a wish list, here are my summer reads and recommendations:

51EvfaFpHOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Storied Life of A.J. Fiery by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved this book. It’s subtle, and a page-turner. A.J. Fikery is sad. He lives alone, runs a bookstore experiencing its worst sales in history, and his prized and rare collection of Poe poems is stolen! But when someone wrapped in a very small package arrives on his doorstep, A.J. has a chance to start a new life. A love story that may make you cry. A.J. also makes me laugh. I recommend this book!

510bcEfPizL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I absolutely do not read books about dogs and pets; I’m just not that person. But then I began writing a story about a dog (go figure). To get me in the mood I opened this book. Oh, why did I resist so long? You’ll definitely cry. You’ll laugh, too. You won’t be able to put it down even whilst touring the great sites of Europe (true story.) This book was passed, grabbed, and fought over among many members of the family this summer (a few racy parts had to be skipped for children’s sake)!

UnknownWhen Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. Wow. What a voice, what a way with words. I’m not sure I even liked this book, but I must sing this author’s praises. This book is so English and not exactly an uplifting read. But Atkinson can write! The horrible first scene hooks you and you must know what happens to little Joanna…and Reggie…and Detective Brodie who is down on his luck and hoping to find the one who got away (both love and murder.) In my opinion, Atkinson, is one of the great writers of our time.

Unknown-1 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I finally read it. I know, it took me awhile. This is the story of the ability of books to feed the soul. It’s 1939, Nazi Germany. Books are being burned. Jews are being rounded up. Death has never been busier. An orphan, Liesel, steals something she can’t resist: a book. Zusak has a writing style that I had to adjust to – I’m glad I did. Worth the read.

51YUtiQEGDL._SX281_BO1,204,203,200_Suspect, by Robert Crais is the type of fast-paced thriller my husband likes to read at night. I read it because it features a main character named Maggie who is…a dog! Maggie is a bomb sniffer. She teams up with LAPD cop Scott James. Both of them are not doing well. They’ve suffered heavy losses. This is the story of a man and a dog who need each other. I’m now an expert on sniffing and the incredible olfactory bulbs of canines (and you can be too)!

511Y1shNp+L._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg. A middle grade book I loved as a kid and rediscovered on my mother’s bookshelf this summer. It was good (though not quite as good as I remembered) and fun to revisit. It’s a classic, but also startling: children’s literature has evolved!

51CWAtRJpGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. I wanted to love this book. The premise was fantastic: a young woman and her privileged husband embark on an adventure to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster. It’s a love story. It’s a historical period. Cope loved this book and read it twice. I wanted to love this book…but it fell a little short for me. I felt the author was holding back.

41qODNLMRnL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I took a break from fiction and picked up this collection of Patchett’s nonfiction essays, only one of them being on marriage. I WAS BLOWN AWAY by Patchett’s writing skills. I adore her. I long to write like her. Also, I’m fascinated by Ann’s personal life. In addition to being a best selling author, she owns a bookstore in Tennessee (road trip, anyone???). She doesn’t have children. She has a dog. I dog-eared a million pages and underlined hundreds of sentences. I will share this book with you if you want to read it next!

Unknown-2Paper Towns by John Green. Meh. It’s hard for an author, don’t you think, to have a hit like The Fault in Our Stars, and then be measured by it forever? On the other hand, young adult writer Green has gotten better over time and practice – a great take away for any writer. This book is a love story about a good boy, Quentin, worshipping Margo Roth Spiegelman who is not at all the girl he thinks she is. I’ve got this book, and I can loan it!

41nHbHx4BYL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall is the third in a series of children’s literature. I read this book to Paige; we love The Penderwicks! It’s the story of four sisters, Hound the dog, and their summer time adventures. Very fun. Very sweet, with nothing deep dark and dangerous. Refreshing.

What am I reading now? Daunted by the weight of the book, I finally broke down and began reading the pulitzer prize winning The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s GOOD. So far, there is no dog.

And that’s all folks, Maisymak’s summertime reads and recommendations! I’m always looking for recommendations, so pass them along. What did you read this summer and love?

 

 

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The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

Perhaps your first reaction is like Brynne’s: “A New York Times Best Seller? It’s a book about cleaning!”

Ah yes, my young padawans, we are not yet Jedis. There is much to learn…

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Marie Kondo is a tidy-Jedi. I love this book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Now quite famous in Japan, this method is called the “Kon-Mari method.” Very Jedi-like.

The word “tidying” does not refer to organizing. Rather, this book is about ridding our life of everything unnecessary. In the process, we find joy.

It’s not really about organizing and cleaning. It does not speak of The Container Store, buying more bins, or storage units. In fact, Kondo has something to say about that:

Storage Experts Are Hoarders.

Woah! Hold on to your boot straps, missy, we are going for a ride!

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Kon-Mari is both funny and serious about her quest to organize. She was born wanting to organize. Even in kindergarten, she didn’t like to play. She liked to put things away. In middle school she rushed home so she could organize the house. This girl is now using her innate organizing super powers to change the world!

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What prompted me to pick up this book? I am on a serious quest to feel less crazy, less busy, less frazzled. I’m craving simplicity. So often, I just feel like I’m moving stuff around the house. This book was quite a serendipitous find.unnamed-4

Section One. I ask you, WHY CANT I KEEP MY HOUSE IN ORDER?

I have kids! I swear that’s the reason. I’m pretty sure our Jedi master, Kon-Mari, doesn’t have kids. Just saying. That’s my only criticism. I could be wrong. Maybe she has 12. But she lives in Japan, so probably not.

Excuses. Once I got past “it’s all the kid’s fault,” I dug deep, read, and examined my habits and flaws.

There are five basic sections of the book:

1. Why Can’t I Keep My House in Order?

2. Finish Discarding First

3. Tidying by Category Works Like Magic

4. Storing Your Things to Make  Your Life Shine

5. The Magic of Tidying Dramatically Transforms Your Life

Kondo takes you by the hand and gently says, “Its not your fault you’re a slob. You just haven’t been taught how.” For instance, her clients are most often women in their 50s.

Some Highlights: Did you know you’ve been insulting your socks?unnamed-3

“Never ball up socks…look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. They’ve worked hard for you. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”

Ha! This is for real! I love it.

Did you know your real life begins when home gets put in order?

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“Tidy a little everyday and you’ll be tidying forever.”unnamed-5

“If you’re mad at your family, your room may be the cause.” unnamed-8

Outer order contributes to inner calm!unnamed-9

As you can see, I did  A LOT of folding down of pages:unnamed-10

If books have voices, this one spoke to me.

Kondo states that storing stuff just hides the problems, conceals things we don’t need under a lid. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.

This is why tidying must start with discarding.

In the last month I have gotten rid of at least ten bags of stuff. It feels so good.

Kondo says to work in categories, not by room: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous (CDs, skincare products, makeup, household equipment….), sentimental.

For clothes, hold it up each item and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If not, give it away.

It’s all about feeling. It’s our rational brain that gets in the way. I might use it. I might need it. It was expensive. It was a gift.

How do you get rid of something that doesn’t spark joy? “Express your appreciation for their contribution to your life. Tell them, ‘Thank you for the boost you gave me when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for getting me a little more fit.'” and then say good-bye.”

I laughed out loud several times, but then I actually tried it. It really works!

“Say good-bye joyfully with words, like ‘Thank your for finding me’ or ‘Have a good journey. See you again soon!'”

I tried this out on The Professor.

Me: “Okay, honey, does this bring you joy?” (old t-shirt)

“I guess not.”

Me: “Okay, thank it for its service in your life and then say good-bye.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

Obviously, some of us have a hard time getting in touch with our feelings.

What about the rebound effect? “Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly, which in fact they have only sorted and stored things halfway. If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep your room tidy, even if you are lazy or sloppy by nature” (which she says she is).

People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.

There’s so much wisdom in this book I want to reread it all over again.

I highly recommend it!

You want the space you live in to be graced only with those things that speak to your heart and bring joy. 

“Tidying is our opportunity to express our appreciation to our home for all it does for us.”

Amen to that. And now, back to tidying.

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Book Recommendations (and more!)

Here we go with some book recommendations that will surely thrill your heart and stir the soul. I tell you what, a good book is what gets me through February and March in New Hampshire.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  Young Adult. Tragic, page-turner, very tight writing. John Green says,”Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable.” I liked this, didn’t love it, but it’s a great book to study for sparse but powerful language, the ending is what Cope calls, “cray-cray.” Interpretation: crazy. I didn’t see it coming!

Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell. Young Adult. I thought this could have been 100 pages shorter 🙂 but it was really funny, the dialogue was fabulous, and I thought Rainbow (great name!) did freshman sexuality well. A few too many swears for my taste, but Ms. Rowell (Eleanor and Park) is a superb storyteller.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Loved this! Baker tells a forgotten chapter of American history, (at least I didn’t know about it) the part where hundreds of thousands of orphans would get on a train and travel across the country, hoping a family would adopt them. Babies, toddlers, teens. Love the structure of this novel, how it switches back and forth between present and past. Big take away: the human spirit is incredibly resilient. I shall never complain again.

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Arming Your Children With the Gospel by R. Wayne and Leslee S. Boss: I try to always be reading something enlightening and spiritually beneficial for my family. This is great. Told with real life stories and great quotes, this book is very applicable to modern culture. I dog-eared many many pages. Chapters I particularly liked: Why Teach the Gospel in the home (no one can do it better than you), The Good Neighbor Policy (sometimes we treat neighbors better than our family), Teaching Children Obedience (obedience is the first principle of family life; all interactions and behavior flow from it), and Developing a Love for the Scriptures (it’s not a burden, rather a marvelous opportunity.)

Helen Keller, a Photographic Story of a Life by Leslie Garrett I love autobiographies. Helen Keller is astoundingly smart, but who I admire even more is Anne Sullivan. She had a very difficult life; was exhausted, nearly-blind herself, and orphaned. This teacher is my hero.

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Einstein’s Beach House by Jacob M Appel I’ve long-admired Mr. Appel’s ability to have a full-time career as a doctor AND write hundreds of short stories. He’s won the Writer’s Digest Competition a few times. I received this for free (by emailing him after a webinar!). I have to say, this collection is brilliant story-telling. Didn’t love all the swears in a few stories, but wow, this guy can write!

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly Saw the movie many years ago, but never read the book. Love lawyer conundrums with page-turning story telling. And all I could see was Matthew McConaughey on every page. Need I say more?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Just finished this yesterday! This is my kind of book. Told from the perspective of a brilliant Harvard professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s (she’s only 50), this is a book everyone should read. Loved all the medical jargon, human interactions, and the thoughts of a mother who knows she will forget her children. Heartbreakingly good. Now I need to see the movie…Julianne Moore won the Oscar! Also, if you’re a writer, Ms. Genova has some fantastic advice. For instance, this was originally a self-published book. Her advice: don’t get stuck in that holding pattern of not writing and waiting for the literary agent to pick you. Act! Pick yourself. Um, hello Amy.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Middle grade read my 5th-grader loved. Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. A coming-of-age book. I thought it just okay.

What I’ve started: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. So good, so much information.

Other Entertainment News in Television:

1. We did it. In one year, averaging one show a night, we finished all eight seasons of 24. (I’m so proud). Jack Bauer, we love you. No, really. LOVE.

2. We did it. In 6-7 years, we watched the last episode of Parenthood. Best series of real life on t.v. Loved this show. I cried during the season finale…dare you not to.

3. Downton Abbey! The girls and I looked forward to this bonding Downton night every week. The season finale? Carson and Mrs. Hughes! So amazing. And who is this dashing man with a too-fast car? I have high hopes for Mary. Oh, and Edith and her baby! There’s never enough!

4. Chicago PD. A little obsessed with Sophia Bush. I want to be her. Love this show.

The two movies we saw in the last year were recent:

1. McFarland. This is a post by itself so I’ll just say: FANTASTIC! I LOVED it. A must-see for more reasons than running shoes, a coach seeking redemption, and rooting for the under-dog.

2. Cinderella. This movie sparked quite the debate in the house. I loved it. Not everyone did 🙂 Casting was terrific. Cate Blanchett as wicked stepmother? Perfect. And Lily James from Downton? Maybe I was just obsessed with her hair. Her hair. Did you see her hair?

Well, that’s how I got through winter. How did you do it? Did it involve books or shows? I’d love to hear.

xoxo!

 

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Book Recommendations

Oh, I do love posting book recommendation. It’s like telling you a big secret and in return, you tell me something juicy too.

January was a good reading month. I took Word Nerd’s advice and made it part of my to-do list.

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How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen with James Allworth and Karen Dillon.  *national best seller. Ya’ll, you have to read this. Every single page in my copy is dog-eared and underlined. Christensen is a brilliant Harvard business school professor…booorrrring? Oh contraire! Diagnosed with cancer, he taught what he thought might be his last class: how would he measure his life? Why, he wondered, were so many of his brilliant classmates, who had every advantage and capability so very unhappy 20 years later? He tells us why and then teaches us how to make our life more happy. Five Stars.

Fight club by Chuck Palahniuk. *lots of indie book awards. Okay, I admit it, the biggest draw was a certain P-I-T-T in the movie. I never actually saw the movie, but I did see A River Runs Through It. We clear? I also read this because I’ve heard many people say it’s “the best book, HANDS DOWN, I’ve ever read.” It just goes to show how vastly book taste varies. I would have quit reading before chapter 1 ended. I pretty much despised this book. There, I’ve said it. I skimmed to the end because I thought perhaps I was going to miss the great literary merit. There’s a great twist at the end and the writing is very good. That will give it Two Stars*.

*I feel mean writing that about another author's work but it's just my little opinion!

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DeCamillo. Whatever DeCamillo touches is gold. How about that name? Leroy Ninker. This was a Paige book. She’s 7. We both loved it. It’s short and funny and full of big dreams. “Leroy Ninker has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse — until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight.” Giddyap! Four Stars.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich. *national book award.Brynne, my 10-year-old came into my room and said, “Mom, you HAVE to read this. It is so good!” It reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, but from a little Indian girl’s point of view. I was hooked by the first line: “The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” Brynne keeps reading the last line in this fabulously dreamy voice: “Omakaya tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.” Five Stars.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. *national book award.This book has a lot of buzz. I begged the librarian to order it. It’s good. The writing is exceptional. It’s deep and literary. Historical fiction. I wanted to like it more; I felt like I should. I just wasn’t moved the way I was hoping. Hmmm. Literary merit alone is Five Stars but my personal “liking” is Three Stars. p.s. Mr. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho. I’m so happily surprised when greatness lives in seemingly ordinary places. I wonder if he has a pet cow.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Another book with a lot of buzz. I begged my librarian for this one too; Priscilla is so good to me! This book has a more unreliable narrator than Gone Girl and I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Luckily we had a major snowstorm and I could not leave the house and had to ignore the darlings (just one second honey, go forage for breakfast downstairs…and hush) so I could finish the book in two long sittings. Written by a female journalist, you’ll know she’s English with the word “rubbish” in the first paragraph. Also, unfortunately, English authors are a little more “free” with language. Now listen, bad things happen when you drink too much and have affairs. Just don’t do it! It NEVER ends well. EVER. You like thrillers? You’ll love this. For unputdownable factor: Four 1/2 Stars

For Christmas Nelson gave me a beautiful leather journal. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: A book journal. I’ve tried Goodreads and old notebooks, but this is just what I needed. I’m keeping track of it all with a pink uniball pen. It’s dreamy fun.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what to read next. Actually I have a stack. Tell me anyway – and happy reading!

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That’s Entertainment: Summer Books and Discovering Jack Bauer

Books of late:

1. Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan. Not only one of the best memoirs I’ve read, but one of the best books. Fantastic writing. Kelly writes of being a nanny to two children who have recently lost their mother. It’s funny, sad, and left with me loving my mother even more. Read this book! You will love it so much.

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A favorite passage: Of course, maybe there’s nothing about any of us that doesn’t in some small way touch back to our mothers. God knows, every day I spend with the Tanners, I feel like I’m opening a tiny flap on one of those advent calendars we used to hang in the kitchen every December 1, except instead of revealing Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, it’s my mother. I can’t see all of her yet, but window by window, she is emerging.

2. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. Kerman is a very skilled writer and compassionately writes about the real women in prison, many of whom simply have no life skills and opportunities. I didn’t like everything about this book, especially the sexuality, but if there is a huge lesson from this book, it’s this: Your past catches up with you. Dear children: Please do not smuggle drugs into the country no matter how exciting it seems.

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3. To get me in a middle-grade writing mood, I reread Matilda by Roald Dahl, Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls. I’m looking for a funny middle grade…any suggestions? I also read Travel Team by Mike Lupica to see what 13-year-old boys love (my son loved this one.)

4. The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni. I just gotta say – well done, Dianne! It was my pleasure to interview Dianne a few months ago. If you like the King Arthur tales (I adore them!), adventure, and fantasy, you’ll like this book! Next up is Jessica Lawson’s The Actual and Truthful Tales of Becky Thatcher. I’m ordering the Tom Sawyer collection for Christmas, which includes Jess’s book (how cool is that???) and hope the children don’t mind if I steal it first….

5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. First of all, the author’s name is “Rainbow.” Secondly, Ms. Rainbow is from Omaha (like me!) and this book begins on a public school bus in Omaha. Of course I had to read it.

This young adult book has excellent writing, great “voice,” and a good story. But I hid it from my children first, because of the locker-room and school bus language and second because of the sexuality. On the other hand, it was both laugh-out-loud and heartbreaking. You root for “the misfits.” These kinds of books are important. It made me want to adopt all the children who need good parents, clothing, a toothbrush, and kindness. Cope (my 15-year-old), did find the book, gobbled it up in one night and declared it “the most depressing book I’ve ever read. Gosh!”

Many thought-provoking discussions and I’m glad I found this.

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6. 21 Principles – Divine Truths to Help You Live by the Spirit by Richard G. Scott. I have a new habit I’m working on. I try to get up every morning around 6 so I can read scriptures, something spiritual, or meditative for the day. I sit on the floor in front of the east-facing window and feel the sun on my face. Even if I only read 5-10 minutes, it makes a tremendous difference in my day. This is an easy read with many profound thoughts from one of my heroes; a brilliant and spiritual giant who teaches simply, yet deeply.

A Short Story:

1. Meet the Vines by Nina Badzin. Bravo! So good. Go HERE to read the very short story – and then vote so Nina can win. I’ve long wanted to write short stories but I don’t really know how. Thank you, Nina, for showing me how it’s done! Very inspired.

A TV Show:

1. So, I’ve discovered this show called 24. It has this totally cool counter-intelligent agent named Jack Bauer. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Yeah, I know, that was so ten years ago…but this is my life. The 8th season was on TV last fall and I told Gregor that we should give it a try since we’ve heard about it for so long! So we started watching (did you know the whole season takes place in a 24-hour period and goes at such a frantic, violent heart-pumping pace that you just can’t STOPPPP watching it? Oh, you knew that? Well, it’s brilliant.) So of course we watched, were immediately hooked, and realized there is backstory (Audrey!) Like, seven seasons of backstory!

Thanks to Amazon Prime, we can watch one, or two, or three episodes every night so that I’m completely sleep-deprived and walking around like a zombie. We’re on season 3 and when Jeff Goins writes that the secret to keeping a marriage strong is having something to look forward to? Well, it’s 24! We’re obsessed. Like Friday-Night Lights obsessed (though no one can quite take the place of Riggins.) I could go on and on about Jack Bauer. My husband likes that he’s so cool and no man or woman can stop him from saving the world one bad guy at a time and I like him because he’s so polite. I mean, he says thank you and please all the time!

I’ll stop now.

The One Movie I’ve Seen:

1. Maleficent. Loved it. Angelina is wow.

A Great And Brilliant Talent:

1. Lastly, I loved Robin Williams so much. He was an inimitable talent. It’s strange to feel the loss of someone you’ve never met, but I do. I especially loved Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Hook. For years, his Peter Pan message echoed through my head…To live would be an awfully big adventure! Rest in Peace, brother. Thank you for being such a decent human being and for entertaining us so well, all these years. “O Captainmy Captain! our fearful trip is done;”

That’s entertainment, reporting from here. And now, if you’ve got any recommendations I’d love to hear!

 

 

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Book Love

I cannot believe it has been since last May that I blabbed about books. For shame. Books make the world go round, and I love to report. Here’s what I can remember (which is slightly suspect)…

Children’s/Middle Grade:

51FMj6uCzLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ A book all of my children love and a children’s book I can stand to read aloud 🙂 A review said something like, “Somewhere, families like this exist. Lucky them. Somewhere, there are people who just get to read about them. Lucky us.” I thought that summed it up well. At this moment, the third Penderwick book is on my bedside table and my two youngest are listening to the first by CD again and again…

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I already wrote about this book, but if you missed it…this is a gem that all parents and children must read RIGHT NOW. You know Ferdinand the Bull, right? This is the same author. This is so funny, so wonderful, so NEEDED.

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I may have already written about this one too, but brain does not recall exactly. Everyone said it was good…and it was! It will make you laugh, cry, want to be a better human being, want to parent better, want to stand up for every child who’s ever been hurt by someone else. Fantastic.

Young Adult:

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I read this last year and I liked it so much I reread again this fall. My bigger review is back here, and yes, yes, yes. It’s great. I have John Green’s other three books stacked on my bedside table waiting to be read. My husband read them all and liked them all, but especially this one. This gives me great hope as a writer: we keep writing, we get better. Don’t ever give up.

Adult Fiction:

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I truly adored this book. It made me want to read Hemingway and so I did…and liked this much better 🙂 Ernest always said Hadley was the love of his life and that he should have never let her go. Plagued by ambition, drinking, and writing discontent, there’s was a marriage Ernest couldn’t sustain or support. It’s good, it’s sad, it’s a great look at an era with so many interesting writing characters: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Henry James. What a dance it is to write historical fiction. I so admire the skill.

51RjBm6BlYL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’m a big fan of Turow. He’s a brilliant writer, but I couldn’t get into this one. I’m sorry, Scott!!! As a side note, I once wrote an email to Mr. Turow and told him how much I loved his books, Innocent and Presumed Innocent, and he wrote back a personal email thanking me for taking the time to write. Twizzles! If you’ve been watching Ice Dancing, then you’ll know what that is. I’m very fond of the word and can’t stop saying it around my teenage daughter who just thinks I’m annoying which of course makes me say it more. Twizzles!

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“The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude.” This is the story of Victoria Jones, a child who has survived the foster care system. Unable to trust or become close to anyone, her connection to the world is flowers and their meanings.  Victoria has a gift for choosing flowers for others…and  through flowers, she just might be able to find the love she’s always so greatly needed. There’s even a Victorian flower book companion that I’m drooling over. My eyes were opened – there’s a whole world of flowers out there that I know so little of! Great read, great writing.

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This is an old one, but I’ve wanted to read it for years. It was good – I couldn’t stop turning the pages into the wee hours of the night even though I’ve seen the movie (love that Robert Redford.) It’s hard for me to love a book that justifies infidelity (follow your heart and all that crap), but the writing was great, and made me think of how much I enjoyed the movie, Buck, the original Horse Whisperer and who actually assisted on the movie set. Buck taught me a lot about parenting. Whisper is more effect than yelling…

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Love, love Amy Tan! One of my very favorite authors, Tan is a superb communicator, especially when it comes to the relationship between a mother and daughter. This book is loooong, almost 600 pages, and for the most part I enjoyed (and was horrified) by the life of a Chinese cortesan in the early 1900s (with the charming names Magic Gourd, Golden Dove, Billowy Cloud), but I did begin to wish to not read the word “deflowered” one more time, and the intimacy details were WAY TOO MUCH, but I plowed through because Tan writes a story so well and I wanted to know what happened to our heroine, Violet. It made me cry, especially at the end, and thankful I have choices so many women in history have never had.

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I always feel like I’m going to get in trouble when I talk about women. But I shall try not to offend you. I loved this book. This surprised me since it’s not a book that champions motherhood, rather, outside careers. But Sandberg (the CEO of Facebook) is so real and likable that I couldn’t help but like it (and her) immensely. It made me think about choices we make, why we don’t like women who are successful, why we call an assertive man a leader and an assertive woman bossy, why we are always self-depricating…Sandberg’s TED talk is one of my favorites. Interestingly, I found myself wanting to Lean In to my own job more – my motherhood job – to own it, to love it, to speak up and be heard.

Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

And now for my controversial opinion (well, we must speak up, right?) Sandberg says: “For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. We have celebrated the fact that women have the right to make this decision, and rightly so. But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.”

I don’t quite agree with Sandberg here. We have focused so much on personal choice and “follow your dreams” that I think we need to ask if we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to motherhood. Motherhood needs to be ENOUGH. It needs to be valued as much as any job outside the home or women are going to continue to leave it. And I worry. I worry about our little ones. Nurture is such an innate gift in women (of course men nurture too!), that we must not make a woman feel it’s not ENOUGH to do so, to devalue a God-given characteristics that is essential for children to thrive, especially during the formative baby/toddler/child years. We need good moms and dads to raise the children and run the volunteer bake sales, organize food drives and voting booths and youth groups…I’ve heard it said and I completely agree, the hand that rocks the cradle rocks the whole world.

Will my children get an education. OH YES. Do I applaud my women friends who are doctors? Full-time teachers? Amelia Earhardt? Toni Morrison? Oprah? Goodness, yes! (which, interestingly, is why Oprah said she would never have children, because she couldn’t give them the attention they deserved. But hey, Oprah has done wonders for women. Perhaps that was her calling in life?) Oh, I get fired up about this stuff and I could go on and on, but I’ll stop with one more quote:

“Feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising children better, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free – to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong.” –Debora Spar

Overall, a well researched and well-written (and controversial) book. Even with all my personal dreams and outside jobs and commitments, I’m determined to Lean In to my motherhood job. After so many years of inwardly fighting to feel like I was enough “just to be a mom” I’m finally at a more peaceful place. Not complete peace, I admit, but I’m closer. Yes. It is enough.

Want more great book lists?  Julia, Nina, Bermudaonion, and Dana might be able to help!

That’s it for now. I literally have stacks of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books in my room to read. Never enough time…though this snow makes it awfully tempting to hibernate. What are you reading? I’d love to hear!

 

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Creepy Cemeteries, Caged Graves, and a Little Romance

I love writers. I love that they put their heart and soul into something that might never see publication, yet they do it anyway because they just have a story to tell. When publication actually happens, (it’s true, it can actually happen!) we must clap very loudly.  Leave a comment at the end to win a book!

Today let’s clap for THE CAGED GRAVES, a young adult novel by Dianne Salerni: 

The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.”

Doesn’t that sound good? And it was! Isn’t “Verity” a great name for a protagonist?  I “met” Dianne through her blog, when she and Marcy critiqued the First Page of a novel I’m STILL working on. I’m very intrigued by writer’s habits and Diane so nicely accepted an invitation to chat. Here’s Dianne, with an exclusive author interview!

Hi Dianne!  Were you always a writer?

Absolutely. I was writing stories even before I could write – or at least I drew them and got my parents to write the words for me. I kept notebooks full of stories throughout my childhood. In fact, the only time of my life when I did very little writing was when my children were babies and toddlers. Parenthood diverted my creative energies into scrapbooking for awhile.

How in the world do you find time with a full-time job and family?
My children are 13 and 16 now and quite independent. My husband and my daughters support my writing habit and do whatever they can to help – cooking dinner and cleaning up most nights so I don’t have to. I get time to write after school (I’m a 5th grade teacher.) and in the evenings. I also write on weekends – and like a madwoman during all school vacations.
What is your process: Drafts? Writing group? Computer? Notebook?

I write on a computer. The only time I resort to paper is when I’m stuck in a faculty meeting and write notes for a story while … um … pretending to take notes on the meeting.
I don’t outline. Any story I try to outline comes out lifeless and dull. I work best starting with a premise, a beginning, an ending, and a few plot points in between. That’s not to say that the first draft doesn’t become a painful ordeal, because it does!
Two critique partners, Marcy Hatch and Krystalyn Drown, read my chapters as I write – and I do the same for them. They keep me on target during the torturous first draft. My husband also reads the first draft. He has a keen ear for dialogue and lets me know anytime a character starts talking “out of character.” In addition to the CPs, I also have a number of beta readers I call on for later drafts.
Why do you write YA? Do your students give you ideas? Do they think it’s cool you are a
published writer?

 We Hear the Dead, was the first YA novel I’ve ever written. I chose to write that book for YA because the main character, Maggie Fox, was 14 at the beginning and 23 at the end. Then I continued writing for YA, which eventually led to my second published book, The Caged Graves.

My first published novel,

However, when I submitted a YA contemporary fantasy to my agent about a year ago, she immediately saw that my premise would work better for MG and asked me to lower the age of my main character from 15 to 14. The book promptly sold in a 3-book deal to HarperCollins, but that same character had to drop to age 13. So, now I’m a MG writer, too!
My students think it’s cool that I’m a published author, and yes, they help me. When I needed a new title for my first book, which was originally called High Spirits, I threw idea after idea at my editor to no avail. I shared my dilemma with my class, and one of my 5th grade students came up with the title, We Hear the Dead.
Last year’s class was there when I got the email about the HarperCollins deal. (I was unable to function the rest of that class period.) They lived through several editorial letters with me – and complained more than I did about the revisions I had to make! They got a sneak preview of the cover, and HarperCollins actually changed something based on their reaction. Knowing how invested they were in the book, my editor gave a thumbs-up to my listing the whole class in my Acknowledgments.
Do you have any advice in the face of rejection?

My biggest successes have come after moments of devastating rejection. One double rejection was such a blow that I considered quitting and never writing again except for my own private amusement. It was only a few weeks later that I received an offer of representation from the most wonderful agent in the business, Sara Crowe.
And my biggest book deal to date, the 3-book deal with HarperCollins, came immediately after another double rejection of two manuscripts from a publisher.
Rejections are horrible. But if you let them stop you in your tracks, you’ll never find out what might happen if you keep going a few steps more.
Was your trip to Wales this summer mainly for research? Tell us about your latest book.

When my family was planning a trip abroad, Wales came up for discussion because my daughters wanted to visit the Doctor Who Museum in Cardiff. I realized I could combine Doctor Who (and a BBC studio tour) with King Arthur research in south Wales, and Cardiff officially went down on our itinerary!
My next book is the first in a series of MG contemporary fantasy adventures with a King Arthur connection.  Here’s a blurb:
THE EIGHTH DAY:

When seventh grader Jax Aubrey wakes up to a world empty of people, he does what anyone would do: assumes it’s the apocalypse, ransacks the local Walmart, and fortifies his guardian’s house against zombies. When he wakes up the next morning to a normal Thursday, Jax wonders if he’s lost his mind.  But his 18 year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, also experiences Grunsday, an extra day squeezed between Wednesday and Thursday.  Jax learns that some people exist only on Grunsday, including the girl who’s been hiding in the house next door for the last 35 years — her life skipping over seven days at a time like a stone skimming across a pond.

A mysterious girl who knows nothing of the regular world? Jax can’t think of a better way to spend his extra 24 hours than trying to befriend her.  But Evangeline is the key to a 2000 year-old spell with its roots in Arthurian legend. Jax’s guardian is her reluctant jailor, sworn to keep her out of the hands of those who would use her – and kill her if he can’t. When Jax accidentally leads a pack of human bloodhounds to their door, it comes to a terrible choice: face a real apocalypse or sacrifice Evangeline.



Do you have any strange rituals or interesting quirks?

Well, I’m definitely strange and quirky. I talk to my characters a lot, and they talk to me. My family knows when they catch me muttering to myself, I’m usually talking through a piece of dialogue, testing it out to see how it sounds. That’s not to say that they don’t make fun of me. They do. But at least they don’t call for the men in the white coats.

Sounds like my kind of lady! 

Bio: DIANNE K. SALERNI is a fifth grade teacher by day and a writer by night. She’s the author of YA historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and a forthcoming MG fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins 2014). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

You can find Dianne here:
Website: http://www.highspiritsbook.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/diannesalerni

Thank you so much, Dianne!  

If you’d like to win a kindle version of The Caged Graves, please leave a comment…good luck!

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