June...

When those of us in Texas start hiding indoors.

Welcome to another month of intense shared emotional experiences! I, for one, have alternated between sadness, anger, disappointment, hope, and a touch of determination. I’ve been reminded lately of the importance of taking it one day at a time, keeping my eyes on Jesus, listening to others, and doing my best. And in the meantime...we keep reading…

What I’m reading…

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe came across my reading list as a review book (even though it’s not new by any stretch of the imagination), and it turned out to be a lot more fascinating than I expected. It’s an adaptation of a journal written about the Bubonic Plague in London in 1665 (incidentally, the year before the Great Fire of London. Not a great couple of years for London). I think I would have enjoyed this slice-of-life book regardless, especially since it’s about a historical event I’m not super familiar with, but the timing is kind of crazy. I would be reading about quarantining measures, and how some people kept trying to work instead of hunkering down because otherwise they would starve, and I’d look at the book and think...was this a trick? Was this written last month? Anyway, if you like history and don’t mind 16th century writing style and a wee bit of repetition (that’s what skimming is for!) It’s definitely an interesting read. 

At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. The multiple shifts in perspective was a little bit jarring, and there’s some real heart wrenching stuff that happens at the beginning of the novel. But it sucked me in and ultimately, I ended up loving it. The narrative meanders and weaves its way among lots of different characters, all connected in some way to food, and to endearingly weird teenager-turned-chef prodigy Eva Thorvald. It’s sad, funny, heartbreaking, hopeful, sarcastic, and surprising. The characterization was so well done, especially considering how little relative page time each character got, and the setting was vivid and basically another character. As a Midwestern girl myself, I particularly appreciated that.

Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay is a story about two estranged sisters, one of whom is a successful chef who is trying to rediscover her joy and passion for cooking, the other a successful businesswoman, wife, and mom who is fighting cancer. There’s a sweet love story as well, but the main plot revolves around the two sisters and their attempt to rebuild their relationship. It was a quick read, but had surprising depth.

Currently on my reading list is the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and another J. Ryan Stradal book, Lager Queen of Minnesota.

What I’m watching...

Has anyone else watched The English Game yet? It’s a Netflix series by the creator of Downton Abbey about the origins of modern soccer (or, football, to get technical). It focuses on the emergence of working class teams, the growth of the game, and the much-resisted (among the upper classes) move toward recruiting and paying players. It’s only six episodes, but it packs so much into those episodes! There were plot points I anticipated, and quite a few that surprised me. I highly recommend it if you like period dramas at all, and even if you don’t.

Jeremy and I had been catching up on a show on Hulu, so I had been seeing advertisements for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist for weeks, and finally decided one night to give it a try. It’s such a delight! It’s weird and funny and silly, but with a lot of heart. The premise: after experiencing an earthquake in the middle of having an MRI, Zoey starts hearing people sing (and dance) their innermost feelings, and starts trying to help the people who sing to her (it kind of reminds me a little bit of that 90s show Early Edition. Anyone else watch that one back in the day?). Like I said, it sounds kind of silly, but I’m really enjoying it.

Upload was another show I kept hearing about (this time on Amazon Prime). In the near future (2030, I think), people have developed the technology to upload their consciousness into a virtual afterlife (if you can afford it, of course), a way to sort of live forever. It’s a light and funny show, but touches on some deep themes like mortality, love, connection, family. There’s a bit of a mystery too, and all packed in 30 minute shows. I will admit that I started watching it on a night Jeremy was out of town, and ended up watching almost the entire season (10 episodes) in one night. And yes, I did kind of regretted the late night the next day.

What I’m grateful for…

Summer weather has come to Houston with a vengeance (although this week has actually had some incredible weather), so today I’m grateful for our central air conditioning and the convenience of living with someone who can repair the A/C when it goes out at 10 pm. 

A little inspiration...

Excerpt from “Traveling at Home”

By Wendell Berry

Even in a country you know by heart

It’s hard to go the same way twice.

The life of the going changes.

The chances change and make a new way.

Deuteronomy 4:39

Know therefore today, and lay it on your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth beneath; there is no other.

Happy Summer, everyone! Stay hydrated, wear your sunscreen, and love your neighbor well.

May...

Hello! My kids are mentally done with any kind of official “school” work, but we only have one week to go. I’m psyching myself up to finish strong, and trying to wrap my head around what summer is going to look like. The short answer is of course: who knows! So here are some things I do know right now:

What I’m Reading…

I’ve been talking about Jane Harper all over the place recently and it’s because I read all three of her books in two and a half weeks and I’m OBSESSED. She writes vividly descriptive, atmospheric mysteries with tight, intense plots and interesting, layered characters. She has definitely moved to my list of authors whose books I’ll read as soon as they come out.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before, but a few months ago I started re-reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan in anticipation of the planned television series. It’s been fun because there are so many things I’ve forgotten about, so many characters that I’m loving even more this second time around. I’m listening to the audio books, which is perfect because if I get briefly distracted it’s not too big of a deal. I used to listen to audiobooks all the time when I had a daily commute, but got out of the habit when I stopped working. Now I often listen when I’m doing chores, or sitting in the front yard watching the kids ride their bikes, or while I’m running.

I also just started the historical fiction novel Sorrento Girl, by Dawn Klinge. Dawn’s one of my new critique partners, and I’m enjoying her work in progress so much I thought I should pick up one of her finished novels! 

What I’m watching/listening to…

Are we all watching John Krasinski’s Some Good News on You Tube? If you’re not, you should. Each episode is kind of like a warm hug. I also recently watched the Netflix series Never Have I Ever. It’s about an Indian-American teenage girl navigating her sophomore year of high school a year after her dad suddenly dies. The characters are so realistic, and for once actually seem like real teenagers (in both the good ways, and the awkward, cringy ways). I love stories that can manage both laugh-out-loud moments and sadness, and this show does it well (one content note since the show is about teenagers: I’d give it a PG13 rating for language and talk about sex).

I was looking for some new music to listen to recently, and my good friend Ryan recommended The High Kings. Suffice it to say, it’s right up my alley, and I’ve got their albums on repeat right now. They’re upbeat and mellow at the same time, which seems like it shouldn’t be possible, but it is! And it’s just what I want right now. Another musical high note the past month or so has been Songs with Strangers by Johnnyswim. Here’s these songs go: the band goes live on social media, picks a complete stranger, and writes and records a song all in 24 hours. I am obsessed with this kind of creativity, and the songs are also really beautiful.

What I’m grateful for…

Lately the things I’m most grateful for have to do with the outdoors, like our backyard and the sidewalks in our neighborhood. Last week, I added to that list the nearby park with a really nice walking/running/biking trail that I can go to with the kids. The outdoors is my happy place, and I do not take it for granted that while all our extra curricular activities are put on hold we live somewhere where we can at least get outside regularly.

A little inspiration…

I came across this poem on a social media post from author Sally Lloyd-Jones. According to Lloyd-Jones, it was read by King George VI in his radio broadcast to the British people in December of 1939. I hope it encourages you as much as it did me!

“The Gate of the Year” (aka “God knows”)

By Minnie Louise Haskins

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied:

‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.” . . .

Words assurance to a nation at war,

Words of comfort for those who’d lost loved ones,

Words of hope for war to end,

Words of peace in the face of fear,

Words of truth that our God is in control and we need not fear.

Words for us this new year, too.

He will light our way.

He will guide our steps.

He will hold us by the hand and lead us.

The future is secure...not because we’ve thought of everything, not because we have done everything right, not because we’ve been so clever or so strong or so good or so perfect, but always & only because of this:

He holds it in His hands

April...

Hello friends! I hope you are all well in body and spirit, and that if the sun’s not shining yet today, that it will be soon, because being able to go outside is one of the top three things keeping me sane these days. 

What I’ve been reading…

I’ve read some really great books the past few weeks (and one dud)! The Rome of Fall, by Chad Alan Gibbs. This book alternates between the present day and the fall of 1996. It’s nostalgic, sarcastic, heartwarming, thoughtful, absurd, and lots of fun. The Dry, by Jane Harper is about as far from The Rome of Fall in tone as you can get, but it’s fantastic in its own way. A federal detective goes back to his tiny hometown in rural Australia for a funeral and stays to investigate what appears to be a murder-suicide. The incident bring up long-buried tragedy, and of course everyone has secrets they are trying to hide. The Dry is very atmospheric and suspenseful. It’s also the first in a series, so if atmospheric detective novels are your thing, I’d give this one a try.

Another stand-out for the month that I’ll mention is a book of poetry: The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry. I’ve developed a bit of an interest in poetry the last couple of years, a fairly casual interest to be sure, but enough of one to actively seek out volumes that catch my attention. The Peace of Wild Things is absolutely delightful. It’s thoughtful, inspiring, grounding, deeply connected to nature, and--true to its title--I’ve found it very peaceful. 

What I’ve been watching…

Jeremy and I finished Star Trek: Picard, and the series was fantastic. It was fast-paced, and intriguing, with some surprising twists and turns. The characters and casting were spot on, and the cameos from The Next Generation were done just right. True to the Star Trek aesthetic, it balanced action and sci-fi fun with big philosophical questions, and of course, who is going to complain about getting more Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard?

I’ve also been finishing up my re-watch of The Office (which makes me about like a million other people). Although technically, since I’d never seen the last three seasons, the past month was more of a first-time watch. I can understand why the last two seasons (those without Michael Scott) don’t get a lot of love, but honestly I still enjoyed them, and the series finale was just the level of closure and sappiness that I wanted (as was the season seven, Steve Carrell/Michael Scott finale).

What I’m grateful for…

A big backyard, a neighborhood with sidewalks so we can easily go for walks/bike rides, and educators that are making at-home learning relatively pain free (at least on the kindergarten level). 

A little inspiration…

“I go among trees and sit still.

All my stirring becomes quiet

Around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

Where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes

And lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

And the  fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

And the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.

~ excerpt from Sabbath Poems, by Wendell Berry

Do you know anyone else who likes share what they’re reading or is always looking for something new to watch? Feel free to share this newsletter with them: https://amandawatersauthor.substack.com/

Also, if you’ve read You Again (thank you!!) and haven’t left a review yet, would you mind taking a few minutes to rate it and write just a sentence or two? It’s one of the best ways to help increase the book’s visibility to searching readers (and you don’t need to have purchased it from Amazon) You can go straight to the page HERE, scroll down to where the reviews start, and on the left you should see a link to “review this product.” 

And as always I love to hear about what you’re reading, and the interesting (or not so interesting) things that have caught your attention lately!

March...

Botswana, Kurdistan, and Star Trek

Well, things have gotten weird since we last talked. I’m trying to go with the flow and take one day at a time, while also holding on to a feeling of normalcy where I can despite changes in plans and routine. And I’m trying to be a good member of my community, and daily figuring out what that means. My prayer for all of us today is peace and comfort, for good health, and for an abundance of patience. 

Now! On to the books and TV and things to inspire us and a multitude of things to be grateful for. Stay tuned until the end for a fun little bonus related to my novel You Again!

What I’m reading….

I finally read one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith, and it was absolutely charming. It was a small, leisurely book, a trip to Botswana with fascinating characters and with a bit of mystery on the side. (I read Double Comfort Safari Club. Also, in looking up a link to the book, I learned that there was an HBO series adapted from the first book! I wonder if I can find it anywhere to watch it).

I just finished a library find called The Kurdish Bike, by Alesa Lightbourne. It’s a novel about a woman who goes to Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) to teach English. I’ve lately been on the lookout for books about the Kurdish people, and this one was mostly enjoyable, although the main character/narrator got on my nerves after a while. This would be a book I’d hand off to a reader who really enjoys memoirs, because although it’s fiction, it reads almost like a memoir. I think next time I look for a book set in a non-Western culture, I’m going to try and find one written by more of an insider than an outsider. Both kinds of books can be enjoyable, but now at least I know what I want next.

What I’m watching…

I started watching Star Trek: Picard with my parents while they were here visiting, and it is so good, y’all. Very action packed and intense, and of course Patrick Stewart is as fantastic as ever. I also finished The Mandalorian last month, and I think I could have watched that show forever. Why is it so good?? It’s easily my favorite thing in the Star Wars universe. I loved that it had such a deep story, but with so few words at times, and I loved how it really highlighted the depth of the world building in the Star Wars universe. 

Also worth noting: Netflix has released The Great British Baking Show: Beginnings (i.e., the very first season ever!) and it’s exactly what I need right now. (except it makes me want to bake and my grocery stores are low on flour, and honestly is everyone who is camped out at home baking right now???? Hopeful for a restock next week)

What I’m grateful for…

I’m grateful for a lot of things right now, but here are just a few: a wonderful Spring Break visit from my parents, HEB grocery stores, group texts with friends, and the fact that my favorite local coffee roaster is offering free shipping from their online store right now.

A little inspiration... 

I have two bits of inspiration today: First, I want to highlight an ordinary, but extraordinary, stranger I encountered on the internet, someone who gave her phone number to her kids’ school teachers to pass along to any working parent who needs a place for their kid to hang out during the day while school is out. How awesome is that?! I am in awe of that kind of service. 

Second, a Bible verse I came across this morning: 

“Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” - Deuteronomy 4:39

FREE BONUS! 

And now it’s time for the fun (and free!) bonus: links to download two beautiful coloring sheets designed to accompany my novel You Again! I’m offering them as a free bonus to book clubs (a purchase of 5 or more books), but wanted to also offer them as a thank you to my newsletter subscribers. Links are HERE and HERE. If you don’t have a way to print them yourself, just reply to this email and we can talk about sending you some in the mail.

If you know anyone who likes to color (or who might enjoy getting this little newsletter in their email every month!), pass along the link to sign up for the email too! I’ll be offering the coloring sheets as a newsletter sign up bonus probably until summer.

https://amandawatersauthor@substack.com

Now it’s your turn! Hit reply and let me know what you’re reading or watching or listening to right now! What are you thankful for? 

February...

Hello, friends! I have little news this month. First, In case you missed my announcement on social media, there is now a You Again Book Discussion Guide you can download off my website!

Second, I was a guest on the Writer’s Haven podcast! I chatted with the host, Musu Bangura, about my path to writing, You Again, and our personal theories about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Check out the podcast at this link: Writer’s Haven, or on iTunes.

What I’m reading

A couple of weeks ago I finally joined the rest of the world in reading Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Holy moly. It was one of those books I couldn’t stop thinking about after I’d read it. The ending was a little too abrupt for me, but overall I really enjoyed it. Intriguing characters, thought-provoking story lines, and a lot of drama. I recently enjoyed a historical fiction novel called Threads: A Depression Era Tale, by Charlotte Whitney. It’s slice of life novel set in rural Michigan during The Great Depression, told through the eyes of three sisters ages 7, 11, and 16. The author creates a vivid setting with compelling characters and a story that will keep you turning pages. I particularly loved getting to experience some of the same events through different points of view. I’d definitely recommend Threads to anyone who enjoys character driven historical fiction.

What I’m watching:

I recently finished the third season of Anne with an E. Overall, I really enjoyed this season, although the show continues to be a bit heavy handed with some of their “issues” story lines. I can appreciate the show tackling topics such Indigenous peoples rights, racism, feminism, and consent, and in looking at those topics through a late 19th century lens. However, a few of the story lines really lacked a subtlety that would have served them better in my opinion, and I think it’s because there were simply too many of them for ten one-hour episodes. Also, I stand by my assertion that Anne with an E is best enjoyed as something separate from the books. I’d probably recommend the series to a friend who’d never read the books, and to select people who enjoyed the series. (it would depend on the friend and their typical approach and feelings about book adaptations in general). Worth mentioning: Gilbert writes a letter to Anne in the last episode and it is everything I could have wanted it to be.

I’m currently in the middle of The Mandalorian which is so far living up to the hype, and looking forward to checking out the new Star Trek: Picard soon. 

Something I’m grateful for:

My Book club has been a bright spot in my life the last several months, and I am so grateful for those ladies and their willingness to get together and talk about books and life.

A little inspiration

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18

Talk again soon! 

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