September...

Hello fall, a new top ten book, and some can't-miss tv

Changing Seasons

Light 

makes all the difference.

Light

turns asphalt and concrete and miles of electrical wires,

into a barren wasteland or an abstract painting.

Light 

for post-dinner walks or 

candle-lit suppers.

Light

that bakes in your bones

turns a tree into a beautiful contrast.

Light

direct, full, a party

Light 

slanted, cool, shy

ebb and flow.

What I’m reading...

The Truth About Fame by Toni Shiloh

This is the second of an inspirational romance trilogy that follows three friends with glamorous careers (a pop star, a super model, and a prima ballerina). It’s a fun series, and a perfect read when you’re in the mood for something light, sweet, and romantic. 

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni is one of my top ten favorite books, and when I saw that the sequel was out I snatched it up so fast! I loved getting to spend more time with the characters I grew to love so much in the first book, more time in early 20th century New York City, and time exploring the Middle East. The Hidden Palace explores human connection in such a lovely, interesting way. Love, love, loved it.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

My friend Nicole recommended this book to me a while back, and I am so glad I finally read it! It’s another book about human connection, but this time set fully grounded in contemporary Sweden. Ove is a self-reliant, practical, taciturn--some might say grumpy--man who is grieving the death of his wife and is done engaging with the world around him. But the world isn’t done engaging with him. Ove and the rest of the characters are so real and vivid, and so endearing, I really didn’t want it to end.

Mystery Force series by Tom Neill

This is a middle grade series, so a bit of a departure, but I read two of these books for review and enjoyed it enough to mention it. These are short, well-paced adventure books grounded in the real world but with magic and magical creatures. The characters are very diverse, and include two main characters with physical disabilities. The stories don’t talk about it much, but they do deliberately show the kids using their differences to their advantage (if you’re going to use a cane, for example, why not outfit it with super cool Bond-type gadgets?). If you have kids in your life who are reading middle grade chapter books and who like real kids having cool adventures, these are absolutely worth checking out.

What I’m Watching…

Only Murders in the Building

I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH! And I know I’m not alone. Only Murders in the Building is a mystery-comedy with a vibe that is somewhere between an Agatha Christie novel and the movie Knives Out. It stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, with a wealth of fantastic and notable guest stars. The mystery is twisty, the chemistry between the main trio is fantastic, the characters have depth, and it’s just really good. You can find it on Hulu, and my only heads-up is that the language is not family friendly.

The Great British Baking Show is back, everyone!!! I could not be more excited about this. The first episode released last week, and the contestants are as delightfully earnest and quirky as you could hope. I mean, one contestant is from Germany and plays the trombone with his son and wife (who plays a different instrument). It just reminded me about how INTERESTING people can be. 

I’m grateful for…

...the changing seasons. I tried really hard this year to enjoy summer, to notice the great things about the summer season rather than focus on the stuff I don’t like. And for the most part, I succeeded (and it made such a difference!). August about did me in, though, and I have been more than ready for something different. Last week we had our first taste of cooler air, and the days are getting shorter. I’ve got pumpkins on my hearth, a bowl of pine cones decorating the bar, a cinnamon spice candle to burn, and a slightly updated rotation of meals. There’s something that feels fresh about a new season, and I’m really thankful for that. 

So, happy fall, everyone! And this month, I’ve got a question: do you have certain books or genres you are more likely to read in the fall? And if so--what are they?

August...

Everything from rom-coms to aliens to the ghosts of Indian warriors

Hello, hello! August is almost over, and I wish I could say that autumn is around the corner. While it probably is actually around the corner for some of you lucky people, we still have a bit of a slog to get through here. The light is visible at the end of the tunnel though, if only just. 

I think I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the world might feel a bit heavy right now. Global crises are at the forefront of our minds, and Covid has once again (or continued to) complicated the back-to-school process, work life, and so much for so many. It can feel like a lot. Here’s my gentle suggestion, based on what I try to remind myself to do when everything feels like too much: look around and do something to help someone else. If you are moved and able, find an organization to donate to or volunteer with helping refugees, veterans, or victims of natural disaster. But that’s not a possibility for everyone, and can frankly feel very overwhelming.  In that case, look around in your life. Who can you send a note to? Does your local food bank need volunteers? Is there a single mom you know who could use a free babysitter for a few hours? Can you take a meal to someone, run an errand for someone, chaperone a youth group activity, invite someone to the park? Does your neighbor need some help with yard work? Do you know a teacher who needs help buying supplies for their classroom? We can’t solve the world’s problems, but we can be present and serve in our own homes and communities. 

Now, on to books and such, shall we? Clearly, my summer heat strategy of hiding in my air conditioned house has paid off, because I have a nice hefty list for you this month! (Also helps that most of the books I read this month were either short or very fast-paced, breezy reads)

What I’m reading...

We Need to Talk: Creating Space for Healthy Conversations About Sexuality by Adam Mearse.

Adam spoke at Sooner Youth Camp this summer (where Jeremy and I have served for more than 15 years), and I was really excited when I heard about this book he’d written. Reading We Need to Talk felt like sitting down to a thoughtful, practical conversation with a friend about how to navigate what is often an awkward or difficult topic. It’s not a “what to say” book, but more of a “how to create an environment where kids and adults talk about difficult things together.” The book is short and to the point (by design), grounded in a Christ-centered world view, and full of compassion and love for kids and the adults who care about them. Adam also gives readers practical tools and further reading recommendations.

Gold Digger by Sanjena Sathian

I couldn’t put this book down, it was so engrossing. A teenage boy is struggling to feel motivated, despite pressure from his parents, immigrants from India who want only the best (i.e., Ivy Leage educations) for their children. He discovers that his neighbor and long-time friend has a unique method of gaining an edge academically and socially, and he wants a part of it. It was a fascinating novel about ambition, belonging, addiction, personal responsibility, and the pressure of both culture and family. 

Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Midnight Library is one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and honestly might join my top ten list of favorite books of all time . Now, you may wonder why when you hear the premise: on the night a woman decides to end her life, she enters the “Midnight Library”, a place where she can visit other lives she could have lived. (kind of like Sliding Doors meets It’s a Wonderful Life). Despite the somber theme, it’s also poignant, heartwarming, and surprisingly profound. Humor and hope are threaded throughout the story, and keep it from feeling too heavy.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

This is science fiction that leans into the science, with a lot of detailed descriptions and scientific explanations of what’s going on, but,  like a good science teacher, Andy Weir makes those science-y bits surprisingly accessible (or skippable, if you’re really not in the mood). Anyway, Project Hail Mary has a fantastic premise, great characters, and a satisfying ending.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry was a light and breezy friends-to-lovers romance with endearing characters and a fast paced plot. (open door for those who like a heads up). 

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Mass food poisoning at Ami’s wedding means that the last two standing--her twin sister Olive and Ethan, the brother of the groom--go on the sick couple’s non-refundable Hawaiian honeymoon. Olive and Ethan don’t get along, so obviously shenanigans ensue. Ever since Anne and Gilbert, I have a soft spot for a good enemies-to-lovers romance and this one was funny, swoony, and with a refreshingly realistic conflict. (also mildly open door)

What I’m watching...

Val (documentary, Amazon Prime)

Apparently, Val Kilmer has spent most of his life with a video camera in his hands, accumulating what amounts to a warehouse full of video footage of his life. His documentary is surprisingly tender, a little sad, and supremely fascinating. 

Reservation Dogs (TV show, Hulu) 

This 30 minute show about four teenagers living on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma is only four episodes into its season, but so far I am really enjoying it. It’s funny, tragic, heartwarming, and emotionally complex with a strong sense of place and a great cast. There’s also a bit of magical realism going on, which is a little absurd, but in a good way.

Hamilton (Broadway performance on Disney+)

I know I am late to the party, but I finally watched Hamilton on Disney+ and it was (as expected) SO GOOD. Having listened to the soundtrack multiple times, I’d already been blown away by creativity and artistry of the music and lyrics, but unsurprisingly getting to SEE it really added so much to the experience. It was funnier, more heartbreaking, and just so, so good. I’d love to see it live someday and see what other actors might bring to the roles.

What I’m listening to...

A Horrible, Beautiful Dream by Sean McConnell

I’ve been looking forward to this album all summer. To me, Sean McConnell’s music has this depth of quality that you get sometimes from artists who have been practicing their craft for a long time. The music ranges from fun and funky to quietly lovely, and the lyrics are a mix of off-beat, tongue-in-cheek, and thoughtfully deep. A+ for me.

Something I’m thankful for: 

This is definitely a little thing, but I believe in being thankful for the little things...like getting a haircut in an empty salon. I LOVE getting a haircut, and the peacefulness of a quiet, cool salon with music playing and occasional friendly conversation with my stylist was just perfection. 

That’s it for this month! I hope everyone has cool days ahead, and in the meantime (or if you live in the South), I hope the air conditioning is strong. Now tell me what you’re thankful for this month!

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July...

Travel, music, and good reads

July typically flies by around here, and this past month has been no exception. As is our tradition, my husband and I spent a week at Sooner Youth Camp while the kids get some grandparent time, then the kids and I traveled to Missouri to visit my side of the family. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of driving, and not a whole lot of sleep. Now we’re back home and I’ve got a pretty lengthy to-do list and am trying to avoid melting and the grumpies because it’s hot as blazes and we still have three weeks to go until school starts (many more weeks of it being hot as blazes, unfortunately). Do any of you with school-age kids struggle this time of year with feeling back-to-school pressure while also trying to stay in summer mode as long as possible? And then also feeling like you’re just too tired to keep up any healthy summer habits? August (or almost August) is just kind of weird. It would be easier if school started in September, but also it’s so hot why not go back to school? Anyway…

What I’m reading…

Little Beach Street Bakery, by Jenny Colgan. You might remember that I read my first novel by Jenny Colgan back in June, and because I’m apparently on a romance kick this summer (I have my theories on that), I decided to read her first novel, Little Beach Street Bakery on the recommendation of my friend Avery. It was a delightful read, a wonderful balance of poignancy and humor, set in a Cornish fishing village that made me long for a trip to the British seaside. One thing I’ve enjoyed so far about Colgan’s books is that she fleshes out the life and relationships of the main character in a way that feels very realistic and relatable. (Little Beach Street Bakery also has the high distinction of LOTS OF BREAD BAKING CONTENT and I am here for that. (because this is a romance, I’ll let you know that there is a little closed door sex and one open door scene that is easily skippable if that’s your preference). 

Project Azalea, by J.E. Conery is a legal thriller along the lines of John Grisham or Michael Connelly, and features a fresh-faced--but far from naive--protagonist, an interesting plot, and a beautifully vivid setting in New Orleans. I will admit that the pacing of the novel was a bit off for me--there was a lot less action than I expected. That said, the story and characters were compelling enough to keep me turning pages, and I hope to read more adventures of Prudence Jean-Baptiste one day.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders is essentially a distillation of a MFA class on Russian short stories that Saunders has been teaching for 20-plus years. It’s funny, thought-provoking, creatively inspiring,  for writers looking to hone their craft, fans of classic literature, and anyone wanting to get in touch with their inner English major. I underlined SO MUCH in this book, and am really glad I bought a paper copy. I absolutely loved it.

What I’m listening to…

Canyons, Ellie Holcomb

When I found out Ellie Holcomb had a new album coming out this summer, I was giddy. Canyon is a fantastic album. Current favorite songs are “Constellations” and “Brand New Day.”

All I Have, Sarah Sparks

Several months ago, I mentioned Sarah Sparks’ album Into the Lantern Waste, which prompted me to listen to some of her other albums. All I Have is full of thought-provoking lyrics wrapped in beautiful melodies and harmonies. The opening track “Religion” is like a sermon, and “Your Burden is Mine” brings tears to my eyes, I love it so much.

January Flower, Mat Kearney

Mat Kearney also came out with a new album, and it’s got a lovely summer vibe. I’ve been playing it in the mornings to bring a little energy to the day. 

What I’m watching…

Loki

If you aren’t a fan of the Marvel movies and now TV shows, I’m not sure how much you would enjoy Loki, but holy cow, I loved it so much! The acting, the pacing, the twists, the big questions wrapped in a super hero cape...I only wish there had been one or two more episodes. (but there will be a second season!).

Something I’m grateful for…

Since we live several hundred miles away from my family, I am always, always grateful for the ability to go see them, especially when I get to stay a whole week. There have been seasons where I’ve gone much longer between visits, so I don’t take them for granted. (I’m also grateful that I actually like my family. They’re all pretty great, and I know that’s not everyone’s experience). I’m also very, very grateful this summer that I got to go to camp. Part of the gratitude is due to the fact that Christina has progressed far enough that she could spend the week at her grandparents’ house with no concerns. Then part of the gratitude is just getting to spend the week with some of the best people on the planet. 

Now it’s your turn! What’s on your radar this month? What are you reading or watching or listening to?

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June

Summer strategy, romance, heists

Hi, y’all! We are more than three weeks into summer break at our house, and so far my strategy of taking it easy and having VERY LOW expectations is working. We are taking full advantage of slow mornings, our neighborhood pool, and the now-open public library. We have started piano lessons for the first time, had a visit from grandparents, and gone to Vacation Bible School. While I have set boundaries on screen time, I am doing my best not to compare our boundaries to those of others, instead trying to focus on doing what works for our family and tweaking as needed. Do some days seem to stretch on into an infinite hot, humid haze where we are all grumpy and tired? Yes, absolutely. Have I been as productive as I would like to be? No, definitely not. But so far I haven’t lost my mind completely, so I consider that a win. Best of all, I’ve been reading books, of course! 

What I’m reading…

Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen

I finally introduced myself to Sarah Addison Allen’s books last year, and a few weeks ago convinced my book club to read her debut novel Garden Spells for our upcoming first-in-over-a-year meeting (it didn’t take too much convincing!).I thoroughly enjoyed this story about sisters, family, belonging, and destiny. I loved the nuanced characters, and, of course the way Allen weaves magic into the story. I think Allen does a good job of creating a story that feels almost fairytale-like, while still telling a compelling, page-turning story

Bridal Train: Further Adventures of Chloe Crandall, Dudette of the West

This book was a bit of a surprise. I read it as part of my very part time paid review gig, and often those books are fine, but not to my taste. This young adult novel was extremely charming, and managed to weave historical fiction into a contemporary story, as the main character, Chloe, joins a reality TV show reenacting a wagon train journey from Missouri to Colorado. Although some of the secondary characters were a bit off-key for me, the main character was a delight. I definitely think this book would appeal more to the teen reader (rather than an adult reader), but it’s one I’d feel comfortable passing on to a teen reader of any age who enjoys light-hearted novels.

The Cul-De-Sac War, by Melissa Fergusson was cute and funny, albeit a little over-the-top. It was the perfect chaser to the more intense detective novel I read last month.

Always the Last to Know, by Kristan Higgins

This was not my favorite Kristan Higgins novel, mostly because I found the majority of the characters to be really annoying. That said, I did enjoy the complicated family dynamics and multiple points of view. I appreciated reading about people in various points of their life--the family matriarch dealing with the end of a marriage, the oldest daughter at the height of her career and fearful of her “comfortable” home life, and the younger daughter who everyone still doesn’t see as settled down. Despite my irritation with the characters, I was rooting for them, and that kept me turning the pages, as well as the fact that Higgins writing style is easy and familiar, and one I enjoy. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Dumped, by Jenny Colgan was a fun British rom-com with a fairly absurd premise that the author managed to turn into a believable and enjoyable novel. Although the novel is clever and funny, it’s also tender and heartfelt, with a compelling main character. I’ll definitely be reading more by this author.

What I’m watching…

Lupin season 2 released this month, and Jeremy and I both enjoyed the second installment of this clever series about a con man who fashions himself after a fictional “gentleman thief” from a series of novels. It’s a really well done, fast paced series with a bit of an Oceans 11 flavor. (reminder: this is a French show, so be prepared for subtitles if you want to give it a try).

Something I’m grateful for…

As I said above, we have been trying to regularly go to the neighborhood pool (my goal is a couple of times a week), and I am just so grateful that we have easy access to a swimming pool. The kids love it, and it’s a nice way to get some sunshine and exercise when it’s so miserably hot.

I’m also newly grateful for a candle that I bought for summer and forgot about until just a few days ago. It smells so good, and was just the right amount of mental lift this week! 

This spring I realized I needed some new running shorts, and found a new brand and style that look promising, and I’m a little giddy since it’s been quite a while since I’ve bought new running shorts. 

The kids’ piano teacher is FANTASTIC. We tried a studio near our house that we were unfamiliar with, but it’s proved to be a great choice so far.

Oh! And a little footnote: the Local Author Fair I attended at the end of May was really fun! I met some people, made some potential contacts, saw a few friends, and sold a few books (to strangers, even!). It was a motivating experience, and good to dust off my book selling skills. 

Here’s to cold drinks and good books! Later, friends!

May list...

The month of big books and big news

Hello! May started out slow, and then all of a sudden it’s almost June. I think that’s the nature of May in our house though. We have a birthday, Mother’s Day, anniversary, and now that there’s kiddos in school, there’s end of the year school activities (not too much for us, since our kids aren’t making any major transitions)

This month I have a couple of newsy-type updates: 

I’m participating in a local author fair in Northwest Houston on Saturday, May 29! I know that affects very few of you reading this, but I’m excited about the opportunity to introduce You Again to more readers, and it felt like something fun to share.

In honor of summer break and the author fair, the You Again e-book will be on sale for $1.99 the whole month of June! I know I’m biased, but I think it would make a great easy-breezy summer read if you haven’t read it yet. And if you have (thank you!) it’s the perfect time to recommend it to a friend.

Last, but not least, I finished the first draft of Novel Number 2 this week! I’m not exactly sure what this book’s path to publication looks like, but this is the first major step. 

Now, on to the lists…

What I’m reading…

Behind the Lens by Jeannee Sacken was a fast-paced, engaging story about a photojournalist who returns to Afghanistan year after a devastating experience with the Taliban. Annie is a compelling character dealing with guilt over her career choice and its impact on her daughter, and PTSD from her experience as a sole survivor of a Taliban attack. Her return to Afghanistan is at the request of one of her oldest friends who has started a school for girls in a relatively safe corner of the country. Of course, not everything goes quite according to plan. The book is intense, but there are threads of hope and humanity. The author’s love for Afghanistan and the Afghan people also came through very clearly through the story, and it added a depth that I really enjoyed.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

This is the fifth of the Cormoran Strike detective novels by Robert Galbrait (aka, J.K. Rowling), and it has all the things I love about the Strike novels: a layered mystery, immersive setting, and lots of character development. The only caveat: if you’re not familiar with this series, these novels tend toward the graphic and gruesome, so if that is something you avoid, they won’t be for you. (I did a bit of skimming, myself).

Rhythm of War, by Brandon Sanderson

This fourth book in Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series started out a little slow for me, but that may have been more of a reflection of what I had been reading. That said, it’s a fantastic installment in this epic series, and the ending was big, bold, and left me quite anxious about finding out what happens next! There’s not much to say really when talking about the fourth book in a series; but if you like to read sweeping, intricate epic fantasy with fantastic world building, and you’ve never picked up the Stormlight Archive, it’s a great series. Also worth noting: I mostly listened to this one on audio, partly because the narrators Michael Kramer and Kate Reading do an amazing job.

What I’m listening to…

Faithful: Go and Speak is a new album that I have been absolutely loving. A group of female musicians and writers collaborated on the album, including some of my favorites (Ellie Holcomb, Sandra McCracken, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and many others). It’s a really hopeful, lovely album and I think it will be on repeat for a while.

Something I’m grateful for…

The first thing I’m grateful for is getting to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this month! Not only is it really special to just recognize what feels a bit like a milestone of being with my favorite person, we were also able to celebrate with a delightful weekend away (thank you grandparents for staying with the kids!).

I’m also grateful that this is the last week of school. It’s weird to say that for a couple of reasons: first off, summer is tough because I don’t necessarily thrive in the heat and humidity. Second, I really do like the structure and rhythms of the school year. However, I am looking forward to being able to move at a more relaxed pace, to revisiting our local farm stand for fresh summer fruits and vegetables, and I’m grateful on behalf of my kiddos who are definitely ready for a school break. So I’m going to remind myself to hold on to the gratitude for the season change as long as possible.

What’s on your list these days?

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