February...

Snow days, the monthly media run-down, and a blessing

Hey, hey! I hope you all enjoyed the short story I included last month! I’ve got another short story ready to go, and plan on publishing it next week as a separate post. 

I don’t know if you pay attention to weather-related news, but you might have heard about the “snowpocalypse” we experienced down here in Texas. Our snow/ice days at home coincided with a cold that made its way through the family, which is good timing in a way, but also helped make the week feel almost outside of time. When we resumed normal activities, I told Jeremy that it almost felt like it had been a month since we’d done anything aside from rattle around our house. On the down side, it was not a conducive environment for writing (and I am SO CLOSE to finishing the first draft of Novel Number 2), but on the up side I DID spend a decent amount of time sitting in the sunniest corner of the house reading. 

What I’m reading… 

The Push by Audrey Audrain is a compelling, character-driven, page turner. It’s dark and at times quite uncomfortable, but it’s also the kind of story that I thought about for days after I read it, and immediately wanted to talk about with somebody. It reminded me a bit of books by Jodi Picoult, in that it was about some very difficult and often controversial subjects: mental illness, postpartum depression, nature vs. nurture, and infidelity. In some ways, the story played out predictably, but the author’s skill at writing the characters gave it a depth that might have been lacking in other hands. 

The Fortunate Ones, by Ed Tarkington is a novel about rich, private school boys, their families, and their community; with themes of privilege, friendship, and ambition. On the surface, it’s not the kind of book I typically gravitate toward, but the author writes the characters with nuance and sympathy, even when their actions (and sometimes their motivations) are pretty terrible. And you know I am a sucker for well-written characters. This is another book that asks some fascinating questions, but doesn’t really give answers.

Honeymoon Alone, by Nicole Macaulay. THIS is the book you’re looking for if you want something light and fun, comfortably predictable, but not boring. Pick it up for the endearing characters, the sweet romance, and the vicarious trip to London and Paris. (I miss traveling!!!)

Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First, by Laura Tremaine. I’ve talked before about how I enjoy Laura Tremaine’s podcast 10 Things to Tell You, and her book is an organic extension of the show. It’s part memoir, part discussion guide, and written in Laura’s distinct slightly-bossy-best-friend voice. It’s a book you can enjoy for the personal stories (because Ms. Tremaine is an excellent storyteller), or as a way to jump start both introspection and conversation with friends. 

The Survivors, by Jane Harper. While this probably wasn’t my favorite of Jane Harper’s mysteries it still had everything I’ve come to expect from one of Ms. Harper’s books: an intriguing mystery, vivid and atmospheric setting, and compelling characters. My biggest disappointment was the resolution to the main mystery, but even with that, it was still an enjoyable way to spend a couple of days.

What I’m watching…

Lupin (Netflix). I LOVED this show. It’s like a cross between Oceans 11 and The Count of Monte Cristo, set in France. It’s expertly paced, the acting is incredible, and there are just enough twists and turns to keep you guessing but not so many that they distract from the story. My only complaint is the cliffhanger ending (consider yourself warned).

WandaVision. (Disney+) We’re all watching WandaVision, right? I’ve been so impressed with how creative and entertaining the show is, really beyond my expectations. Of course, it’s better enjoyed if you’ve seen the Marvel Comic book movies, but you could still enjoy it without that familiarity. I also have to say I think one of the show’s sneaky, genius moves was to release the episodes one week at a time instead of all at once as we’ve become used to on our streaming channels.

Something I’m grateful for…

If nothing else, a week of bad weather will make you grateful for electricity, clean running water, and definitely trash pickup and waste management. We often take our modern conveniences for granted, but this month it’s definitely something I’m remembering to notice. 

A little inspiration…

Last week, I started a 40 day devotional called Memento Mori: a Lenten Experience and Community by Erin Moon. In this devotional, we’re walking through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew through the lens of the practice of Lent (one of the seasons observed in the liturgical church calendar), and specifically the idea of “memento mori”: remember you are going to die. It may sound morbid, but it’s actually a rather beautiful thing to consider. What does it mean to live an abundant life when we know this physical one will end? I am always up for a thoughtful look at the Sermon on the Mount, and so far I’m really enjoying this one.

Here’s the closing prayer of the first day of the study, which I think captures the heart of the theme well. I hope it blesses you!

“Jesus, in our culture of the fear of death, give us new eyes to see the blessing of a life that knows its boundaries. We ask that you make our lives a blessing to others, and that we come to know you and your love for us through that blessing. Amen.” ~Erin Moon

January...

Coming in under the wire. Not late, but right on time.

Hello, all! Somehow, January has felt like a million years, and yet here I am squeaking out this month’s newsletter with only a few days left in the month. (to be fair, I think it had more to do with the fact that I didn’t read much during the first two thirds of the month). We finally seem to have settled into a loose routine of home-therapy-school-church activity; and I don’t mind saying that this girl is tired! That said, let’s get to the good stuff (and make sure you scroll all the way down for the new feature!)

What I’m reading…

The Guest List by Lucy Foley was exactly the book I needed to get me out of a brief period of reading paralysis. This book won’t be for everyone-- people acting like gross humans, and people making some very poor decisions. However, if that doesn’t bother you, or if you  can skim past the stuff that does, then you’ll find a very atmospheric mystery-thriller that’s really tough to put down. It reminded me a lot of Big, Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty (which I loved)

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat has been on my wish list ever since I saw the Netflix limited series based on the book, and I was ecstatic to receive it as a Christmas gift. Although it does have recipes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is more of a how-to-cook-anything book as opposed to a traditional cookbook. Samin’s voice is so distinct, and her love and passion for food and cooking come through loud and clear. Plus, she lays down such good information. It feels like taking a masterclass on food basics. I haven’t read it cover to cover yet (it’s a big book!), but I’ve begun diving in, and am thoroughly enjoying it.

The Trouble with Love, by Toni Shiloh. One thing I’ve enjoyed doing the past year or two is connecting with other authors and readers on social media. Another thing I’ve been trying to do the past few years is to intentionally read diverse books, books written by someone with a different perspective and life experience from me. Those two simultaneous activities led me to this sweet, contemporary, Christian romance about a famous pop singer and her equally-famous-in-their-own-right friends. Holiday was a main character that I wanted to get to know, the romance was realistic and swoony, and paced really well. The faith elements were integrated well into the story (this is one of my biggest criticisms with some Christian fiction). It was a breezy read--there was nothing really earth-shattering about it, but it was definitely an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, by V.E. Schwab. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was fascinating, engrossing, and beautifully written. The characterization was so vivid, and the characters take the reader on quite a journey. I liked that the author found the perfect balance between grounded contemporary and a mystical, fairy-tale-esque vibe. However. I just kept feeling sad (and not in the way I prefer to feel sad when I read books). I felt like the characters kept searching in the wrong places for what they wanted. The characters were searching for meaning, pleasure, and connection; but in a context in which God is not present, in which God did not answer those cries. And that just…felt so fundamentally sad to me. Of course, when the wrong supernatural being did answer, the results were about what you’d expect (NOT GOOD). I can’t really pin down what my problem was because I’ve read and enjoyed books in which characters have a different world view than me, in which people make terrible choices (see: earlier mention of The Guest List), and in which characters are unlikable. But for some reason, this book was just shy of being what I wanted it to be. (and maybe my own expectations were part of the problem!).

The Push, by Ashely Audrain is the kind of book you read in one big, intense gulp and then want to immediately go talk about. Emotionally, it’s not an easy book. There’s significant mental illness, post-partum depression, and child endangerment. The narrator is possibly unreliable. Yet somehow, the author manages to make almost everyone in the book sympathetic in some way. Despite the tough nature of the story, it was so well written, engrossing, and absolutely thought-provoking. It won’t be for everyone, but the librarian in me knows this will be one of those best sellers that doesn’t stay on the shelf.

What I’m listening to…

One of my favorite musicians is Sandra McCracken, and a few weeks ago, I came across a collaborative project that she was part of called The Porters Gate Worship Project. This project has released four albums in the past few years: Work Songs, Neighbor Songs, Lament Songs, and Justice Songs. I’ve only listened to Work Songs and Neighbor Songs so far, but holy cow I LOVE these albums. The albums are full of quiet, beautiful music by a variety of artists, with songs that center around a central theme (as you can probably tell by the names of the album). The music is lovely, and the lyrics are so thoughtful. 

Speaking of music, I’m still digging my Magnolia Record Club subscription. This month’s selection has covers of some classic songs by newer artists, and how did they know that I’m a sucker for a good cover? One day I’m going to have to put my money toward something else, but it’s hard to quit!

One of my biggest pet peeves about our modern times is the 24 hour news inundation. On the one hand, access to information is a great thing. On the other, our brains were not built to filter and sift and sort through the amount of information available to us. When it comes to news, I err on the side of ignoring it all, but I know it’s good to know what’s going on in my community and in the world around me. Enter...The Newsworthy Podcast. This podcast is headline news with no commentary, contained to just 10-15 minutes. The host touches on a variety of news items each day, and has links on her web site if you want to read her sources or dig deeper into the stories she covers. She also puts out a weekly newsletter that I’ve begun subscribing to with links from the week, as well as links to some feel-good news stories. It’s helped me feel like I’m not going to miss anything big, but helps me control what can feel like the firehose of news sometimes (and no commentary. Did I mention how much I value no commentary?). 

Something I’m grateful for…

I’m grateful for the fact that a Covid vaccine is entering the scene. I’m grateful that Jeremy’s job has good insurance. I’m grateful for great therapists for Christina and for school administration that are (so far) easy to work with. 

Story Corner

Meet the Author is on hiatus for the moment, and I’m pleased to introduce a new recurring feature: Story Corner! While novel-length stories are more my jam, sometimes I stretch my creative muscles with short stories and other short-form writing...which I’ll be featuring here! The story this month is a very rough-cut exercise that I previously published on my website. It was based on a three-word story challenge I saw somewhere else: give me three words and I’ll write a short story. My friend Kristi gave me three words and this was what came out. It was fun to write, and while it’s pretty silly, I hope you enjoy it!

“Be Careful Who You Game With”

The dice rattled, coming to rest inches from the edge of the table. Rebecca rubbed her eyes, bleary from lack of sleep, and tried to focus on the pips.

“So…”she rubbed her eyes again. “I can’t math right now. I rolled a four. I have three persuasion and the fancy duds so that’s…” 

“Ten. You passed.” Terry’s voice drifted up from the floor where he was stretched out with his eyes closed.

“Thanks. Ok, that completes that job then, and that’s my turn.” Rebecca moved her cards, and leaned over to pull money from the bank. She handed a small, green plastic dinosaur to Haley. “You’re turn.”

Haley yawned as she began her turn, moving her blue ship across the board and turning over cards as she went.

“When did we start this game?” she asked. Flip. Slide. Flip. Slide. Flip. Roll. Slide.

“Almost 3 p.m. I think,” Aaron answered, returning from the kitchen, his arms full of popcorn bowls, Dr. Peppers, and a bottle of water for the pregnant Rebecca. “I logged off of my work server at 2.”

Rebecca reached for the water, walked over to the living room window, and pulled the curtain back. “That can’t be right,” she said. She let go of the curtain and turned back to face the others. “It’s as bright as noon out there.”

Four pairs of eyes turned toward the large round clock on the wall.

2:00.

“Has the clock stopped?” Haley sounded confused.

“Well, I can still hear it tick-tocking,” Aaron replied, but he also sounded confused.

Terry sat up and pulled his phone from his pocket. “Guys.” he said. “It’s 2:00 p.m. We’ve been playing this game for almost 24 hours.”

Tick.

Tock.

Tick.

Tock.

“No.” Rebecca shook her head and sat heavily in the nearest chair. “Impossible. Even our longest game of Firefly only takes four or five hours. Max.”

“We have to stop,” Haley said firmly. “No winner, just stop and sleep. We’re all clearly delirious. You two just crash in the guest room,” she gestured to Rebecca and Terry. “I don’t feel comfortable with either of you driving right now.”

Rebecca nodded, but didn’t stand up. Aaron sat down next to her, absently passing around the snacks, for which everyone absently thanked him then sat in a silence punctuated only by pop, hiss, crunch. No one moved. 

“The thing is,” Terry said finally, scratching his week-old beard. “I know you’re right. I want to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Like...I physically can’t.”

Reecca rolled her eyes. “What are you even talking about.” She paused. Her brown eyes widened. “Crap,” she said, voice cracking. “We can’t. We can’t stop.”

Haley reached out and completed her turn quickly and silently, then passed the dinosaur to Aaron. As he went through the motions of his turn, she stood up and walked down the hall, walked back toward the kitchen, went outside on the porch, and returned to the dining room table. 

“It’s true,” she said, sitting down. “I can get up, walk around the house. I didn’t even have trouble going to stand outside. But as soon as I think about not playing the game...I can’t even describe it. It’s like a compulsion and mental block all rolled up into one.” Her sigh was deep, frustrated, weary.

“Okay, let’s think about this,” Aaron said as he passed the dinosaur to Terry. “What is different about tonight?”

They sat thinking, the only sound that of Terry rifling through a deck of game cards.

Fffft….fffft…..ffft

Abruptly, Terry set the stack of cards down and looked up. He grabbed the plastic dinosaur and plunked it down in the middle of the game board. Ships jostled out of position, but no one cared. 

“Where did you get the dinosaur?” he asked. “Have you played a game since you  got it?”

“It was a gift,” Aaron said. “From a work friend. Acquaintance really. Chad. I’d been telling him about the game and he really wanted to play, so I invited him over for a game. He brought it with him. It’s the only time I’ve used it.”

“Was it a long game?”

Aaron shook his head. “Two or three hours. About normal. Chad one.”

“Wait!” Haley stood up. “Chad!? Training to be a wizard Chad? Practical joker Chad? Likes to cheat Chad?”

“Ummm...yes?”

Haley smacked her palm against the table, making them all jump. “The nerve! Twenty bucks says he put a spell on that dinosaur that makes it impossible to stop playing unless he wins.”

Aaron shook his head. “That’s so...specific. Why would he do that and then leave it here?”

“Spite? He thought it was a good joke?”

Rebecca stood up. “I’m so tired, I’m not thinking straight,” she said walking to her purse. She rummaged around and eventually stood, holding a small brown glass spray bottle.

“For emergencies,” she said.

She shook the bottle gently as she walked back to the table, then reached out and sprayed the dinosaur. “Usually only takes a minute.”

As they watched, the mottled green paint appeared to melt, sliding down the toy and coalescing into a shimmery ball next to the now naked dinosaur. They stared.

“Looks like you owe your wife twenty bucks,” Terry said.

“Is the spell broken?” Haley asked.

Rebecca shook her head. “No, the spray just revealed it. But it’s small and simple. We can break it ourselves even without the originator. Which is good, because it’s possible that Chad had someone else cook the spell for him.”

“So what now? When you say break do you mean...literally break it?” Haley gestured to the green ball.

Rebecca nodded. “Yes, basically. But we need to make a salt circle to protect the area from the release of energy. I’d do it myself but…” she gestured to her five months pregnant belly. “No hands-on magic after the first trimester.”

“This might be a stupid question,” Aaron chimed in, “but if we need a protective circle, how do we protect the person doing the breaking?”

“Well, if it were a witch or wizard they could just ward themselves,” she said. “But I’ve got something in the car that we use in school. Be right back. You guys keep playing while I’m getting it. It’s starting to feel a little hard to move.”

Rebecca returned before the end of Terry’s turn carrying what looked like a cross between a fire fighter’s uniform and a trench coat. She was slightly out of breath.

“Lead coat,” she explained, dropping it to the floor with a thunk. 

She picked up the green ball and found a bare spot on the tile floor to set it on. 

“It’s your turn,” Terry said. “I think you should play it while we make the circle and do the rest of it.”

Rebecca nodded and went to the table, reminding Terry to make sure the salt circle was clean and unbroken. Haley went to get salt from the kitchen, and Terry picked up the lead coat. 

“Want me to do it?” he asked. 

“Aaron should,” Haley said as she returned with the salt. She turned to Aaron. “Your friend, your responsibility.”

Aaron sighed. “Not my friend,” he grumbled. “But I get your point.”

He took the coat from Terry and put it on, going to stand next to the spell. Terry bean encircling them with the salt. Rebecca finished her turn and handed the naked dinosaur to Haley who raised her eyebrows at the gesture. Rebecca shrugged. “Well, we’ve been passing turns with this dumb dinosaur for 24 hours. Why stop now.”

Terry finished the circle and stepped back. “All you now, brother.”

“Wait!” Rebecca reached out a hand. “Close your eyes. I forgot safety goggles. Just in case.”

Aaron took a deep breath, balanced his foot above the tiny, unassuming spell, closed his eyes, and stomped.

Air whooshed through the room, ruffling their hair and clothes, and the pressure in the room shifted abruptly, like a balloon being popped. For a long moment they all stood still, then Terry said, “I think it’s time to stop playing,” and walked down the hall toward the guest bedroom.

Rebecca laughed and followed.

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December...

Written from my Hobbit Hole

Ho-Ho-Ho! Okay, I’m not convinced that works, but I’m leaving it anyway.

What I’m reading...

Sadly, not too much to report on this front, but I did read The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner and it was such a satisfying ending to this series. Not only did Turner wrap up the story she’d been deftly setting up since The Thief, she brought Gen’s character arc full circle in a way that was really special. It also bears saying that in addition to creating one of my favorite literary characters ever, one of the things I love about Turner’s writing is her ability to pack SO MUCH into relatively short books. 

I had planned on diving in to Brandon Sanderson’s newest release after finishing The Return of the Thief, but I think my scattered brain needs something a little lighter to get me back in the groove. 

What I’m watching...

Part of the reason I’ve been a slow reader this month is that I was blowing through some good TV. The latest season of The Crown (stunning, mesmerizing, brilliant filmmaking), Great British Breaking Show (not as good as some previous seasons, but the two Holiday specials definitely made up for it. I hate to admit it, but I think it’s time to replace Paul Hollywood. What are the odds they’ll actually do it though?), and Star Trek: Discovery (despite a few flaws, this series just keeps getting better). Next up is finally finishing The Good Place and starting The Mandalorian.

What I’m listening to…

“Tis the season for some good music. This month I’ve been leaning into Songs the Season Brings by Beta Radio (perfect chill, folksy Christmas vibe); Fragile by Nichole Nordeman; Christmas by Sandra McCracken (the song “The Space Between” gets me right in the heart every time); The Christmas Album by Leslie Odom, Jr. (great for some of those classic Christmas songs. And seriously, his voice is so dreamy). I also discovered--thanks to podcaster and author Tsh Oxenreider--the album Advent Pt. 1 by Sarah Sparks, as well as Sparks’ album Into the Lantern Waste, songs inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s SO GOOD y’all. So good. I’ve had both of those Sarah Sparks albums on repeat for a week, and I’ve got no plan on stopping. Oh! And I got my Dolly Parton Christmas record (A Holly Dolly Christmas) last week and it is not only charming, but perfect for listening to on the record player.

Something I’m grateful for…

I couldn’t even begin to list all the things I’m grateful for right now, but if I tried the list would start with our family being home together, and would include all the many, many people who have been so generous toward us the past few months. Today, I’m also grateful that I sat down to look through and organize my 2020 pictures a few nights ago. My soul needed the look back, the prompting to reflect a little on the past year. Not just the present moment, or the stressful events of 2020, but the whole year. The smiles and joy that was mixed in there too.

Meet the Author...

I’ve really enjoyed doing this series the past several months, and hopefully it’ll make a return sometime in 2021. The final author I want to introduce you to in this installment of the series is Catharine Adel West. Her debut novel Saving Ruby King was a highlight of my 2020 reading. Without further ado, meet Ms. West...

  1. What is your favorite part of the writing process, and least favorite part of the writing process?
    As a black woman in the predominately white world of publishing, the lack of people of color resulted many times into me running into a wall though I eventually found the people meant to champion my book and make it better than I ever could’ve hoped. What’s fantastic about my journey, the good and bad, is seeing the final product on shelves, learning I am stronger than I imagined, and knowing I created a story that, in scope and craft, that has become meaningful for a lot of people.

  2. Where is someplace you feel most at home?
    I feel most at home, at home or at my parents’ home, which is my childhood home. There are places cradling all your secrets and experiences (or the residual effects of them). For me to write, I need to be in the places holding good and bad, light and dark in order to create a story for readers that is both believable and entertaining.

  3. Tell us about someone who has inspired you creatively?
    I love Viola Davis! I love her fearlessness, her boldness and her ability to fully inhabit any and all characters she portrays. The passion for her craft and the execution of skill leaves me in awe when I watch her on television or on movies. I love the fact she’s worked hard and fought for every single accomplishment. Viola gives me so much hope as a black woman that, though we’re in different artistic realms, I’ll be able to have just as much of an impact in writing as she’s had in Hollywood. To have her acting as a character in one of my books or producing or directing or anything of mine would be a dream come true. Plus, she has the same name as my grandma so you already know she’s dope! 

  4. What kind of books do you gravitate towards in your own reading life?
    I enjoy reading literary novels (A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara) thrillers (Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz), and some select nonfiction (The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson). 

  5. What is your superpower?
    I’m very good at reading people, not so much Prof. X style. But many times when I meet someone I can get a general idea of who they are, their motivations, etc. 

  6. One of the best pieces of advice you've ever gotten?
    When I first began writing Saving Ruby King, I decided to format it as a multi-POV story. That same year, “12 Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis was published. I was so disheartened. My dad happened to be over my house when I told him I’d probably quit writing Saving Ruby King. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “Baby, just write your book.” 

So, when I feel discouraged or when I want to quit a story, I replay those words and just write my book. 

Biography

Catherine Adel West is an editor living and working in Chicago. She graduated with both her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana. Her work is published in Black Fox, Five2One, Better than Starbucks, Doors Ajar, 805 Lit + Art, The Helix Magazine, Lunch Ticket and Gay Magazine. Saving Ruby King is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @cawest329 or her website www.catherineadelwest.com

*****

Thanks for being here, friends! I have some dreams for the newsletter in the coming year, and I hope you’ll stick around to share them with me. In novel writing news, I didn’t quite make my goal of finishing the first draft of Novel Number 2 in 2020, but by my best estimates I’m about two-thirds to three-fourths of the way done, which is pretty remarkable considering it took me 9ish years to finish the first draft of You Again. PROGRESS! 

I feel a bit of pressure to say something profound about either the past year or the coming one (or both), but instead, I’m going to leave you with an Irish Blessing:

“May you be blessed with the spirit of the season, which is Peace,

The gladness of the season, which is Hope,

And the heart of the season, which is Love.”

November...

Hello, friends!

Since the last newsletter, I have become well acquainted with three things: the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital; the best routes to drive between our house and the Houston Medical Center; and the amazing, unfathomable kindness of God. I mentioned last month that we had experienced a family crisis, and at the time it was still relatively fresh so I didn’t like to talk about it much. Plus I knew a lot of you all were already acquainted with the situation. For those who weren’t and aren’t, here’s the summary: on October 1 my daughter and I were in a car accident and Christina suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Since then, she has gone from being unresponsive to being alert and awake, and her cognitive and physical abilities are returning in amazing ways. Her personality is shining, she is working so hard at all her therapies, and she is being really brave and strong having to be away from home for so long. 

It’s a long road that we are on, and this current part of it has required a lot of juggling and tiredness, a lot of physical support from family and friends, and a lot of looking forward in hope while also living with the emotional ups and downs of a difficult situation. I might have more deep thoughts on our current situation next month, but not today. Today is for being present. (plus, I’m a slow processor).

The back and forth and tiredness and hours in a hospital room have--as you might expect--affected my reading and media consumption the last several weeks, but not necessarily in a bad way. I’ve gotten reacquainted with an old friend, and met some new ones, shared books with Christina, and enjoyed a couple on my own.

What I’m Reading...

Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary 

My memories of reading the Ramona series are so clear, so imprinted, that they feel like my actual memories. Klickitat Street is so vivid in my mind, it’s like I’ve been there in the flesh. I’ve looked forward to reading the Ramona books with my kids more than any other books, I think. Nostalgia aside, I’m also pleased to say that for me the books hold up. Some of the references and language may be a little old fashioned, and give hints to the publication dates, but the stories, characters, and themes are timeless, and Beverly Cleary writes with such deftness and sympathy for what it’s like to be a kid. 

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth, by Jane O’Connell

I discovered the Fancy Nancy books when I was working as a librarian, and thought Nancy was adorable. I was secretly pretty thrilled when Christina took a liking to the picture books. I knew that the author had begun writing chapter books starring Nancy several years ago, but it wasn’t until the hospital librarian offered us the first of the series that I actually read any of them. It turned out to be a highly enjoyable read aloud with Christina. It’s classic Nancy with an excellently plotted mystery, not too difficult for a 6 year old to follow, but still intriguing enough to be a real mystery. 

The Magic Treehouse, by Mary Pope Osborne

Our friends sent us the first four of the Magic Treehouse books, and they were really fun to read. After the first one, I found myself waiting to pick them up until I knew I had a big enough chunk of time to read it all in one sitting! I can picture myself having loved these books as a kid, sitting in my favorite reading spot on the end of the living room couch. 

Don’t Blink, by Amy Krause Rosenthal

This picture book is fantastic. The premise is that every time you blink, you have to turn the page, and when you get to the end of the book, it’s bedtime. So an adorable owl tries to help you NOT BLINK, because we all want to avoid bedtime, right? (except me). This book was one of the first things that Christina interacted with and smiled at as she began to emerge cognitively, so it will always hold a special place in my heart, but I would love this book regardless. I’m thinking it will become one of my go-to gift books for babies and little kids.

The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime, by Mark Haddon

The main character of The Curious Incident is a teenage boy with autism. The set up of the story is that someone killed the neighbor’s dog, and [x] sets out to investigate the crime, but really, the book is more about getting to know [x] and spending time in his life. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was poignant, funny, and thought provoking.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen

This book was exactly the kind of novel I needed. I’ve checked Sarah Addison Allen books out from the library numerous times, but never managed to actually read one, despite the fact that everything I’ve heard about them indicates they are right up my alley. A few weeks ago, a friend sent me this one, so I felt extra motivated to finally read it, and my instincts were correct: it was right up my alley. Character driven, magical realism, with lyrical writing and a plot that touches on some deep and heavy subjects, but with enough hope and joy to keep it from feeling weighed down. 

What I’m watching...

When watching both the first and now second seasons of Umbrella Academy, I found myself thinking, “how are they going to manage to bring all these flailing, unravelled threads together?” Yet somehow, they do. I found myself thinking, “none of this makes sense,” and yet it also manages to make perfect sense! I loved watching continued development of this family’s relationships, the redemption arcs, and the crazy reveals. The plotting of this series was so tight, and the conclusion both satisfying and maddeningly tantalizing (please start filming season 3 soon!!) 

What I’m grateful for...

Starbucks gift cards, family and friends who take care of us, friends who clean our house, and Bri McKoy’s Whiskey Sour recipe.

Meet the Author: Charlotte Whitney

Charlotte Whitney’s historical fiction novel Threads: A Depression Era Tale, captivated me with its vivid setting. Ms. Whitney’s story was grounded in a single family in a specific time and place, but through her storytelling was able to capture a moment in history in a way that was really engaging and sympathetic. So I thought we might like to get to know her a little better! Meet Charlotte Whitney...

Favorite part of writing process: 

When you receive that first shipment of author’s copies and pull the new book out of the box.  You flip through it, and look at the familiar chapters, and it’s like a kid entering a toy store.  You’re finally there!

Least favorite part:

I struggle through every first draft.  Every sentence sounds clumsy.  The plot isn’t intriguing.  The characters are boring.  Even though I tell myself it’s the first draft, I want the words to come out polished with an exciting story and oh, so fascinating characters.  But that just doesn’t happen.

Where I feel at home:

I love being out in nature, whether it be a walk through a garden, a hike on a mountain trail, sitting at the bottom of a waterfall, listening.  I grew up on a farm, so much of my childhood was spent playing outside. When I’m outdoors I feel young, carefree, and much less stressed.

Someone who inspired me:

Early in my career I met someone about my age who was working on her first book.  She was so encouraging, indicating that perseverance was critical, plus lots of rewriting.  I knew I could do that.  A couple of years later, she told me that I was the only one of many friends she encouraged who actually followed through and published a book.  Perseverance.

Types of books I gravitate towards:

Not surprisingly I enjoy historical fiction.  I simply love being transported to a different place and time, swept away with a conflict that’s not part of my twenty-first century reality.  Some examples:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline; The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.

My super power:

Invisibility.  Listening in on conversations in waiting rooms or at other tables in restaurants, overhearing conversations in the locker room at the gym. 

Best piece of advice: 

Lighten up!  I tend to take life too seriously.  Fortunately my husband has a great sense of humor so he makes it easy to laugh at the world and at myself.

Go visit Charlotte and read more about her work at www.charlottewhitney.com.

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October...

Happy October, friends. The newsletter will be on the short side this month, as our life was interrupted by a family crisis a few weeks ago. We are navigating the upheaval with much prayer and support from family, friends, and the Lord’s strength and love. Although life is far from “normal” right now, there is one thing I know for sure about myself: when things are out of control, I reach for the familiar to help me get out of my head and ground me, activities like reading, listening to music, talking to friends, prayer, getting outside, moving my body, and even writing. I hope and pray that whatever is going on in your life right now, you are finding comfort in familiar activities and routines, and that the peace of God will fill your heart. 

What I’m Reading...

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoffer. This turned out to be a somewhat odd but also perfect book to read during a year when community and life with other people looks a lot differently than what we’re used to. Even though the book is specifically addressing physical community among Christians, there are so many good thoughts about how we do and should relate to each other and to God, and the importance of living a Christian life WITH other Christians-- we weren’t meant to do it alone. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Many months ago, Amazon announced it was beginning production on an adaptation of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It seemed like the perfect time to dive into a reread of the series. I decided to listen to the audiobooks, because I could then easily read other books at the same time. For months, the characters of The Wheel of Time have been my companions on runs, walks, long drives, while I do housework, grocery shopping, and watching the kids play at the park. It had been so long since I’d read most of the books in the series, that I had forgotten a lot of things that happened in them. It was the best of both worlds--the delicious anticipation of knowing how things turn out with the excitement of not quite remembering how. The Wheel of Time was my introduction to the fantasy genre, and while it’s not perfect, and certainly not going to be for everyone, it really is an amazing piece of storytelling. The worldbuilding and character development alone are truly wonderful.

What I’m listening to…

Patient Kingdom, by Sandra McCracken. I’ve been a huge fan of Sandra McCracken for years. I love her poetic, thoughtful lyrics, and her acoustic, folk style. For me, this album is like the musical equivalent of laying in a hammock with a good book.

Julie Fowlis is a new to me Scottish artist who popped up as “artists you might like” on my Amazon music account. And yes, algorithm, I do like it! She has a beautiful voice, and the fact that most of the lyrics are in Gaelic, just adds to the charm. 

What I’m grateful for…

I can’t express how grateful and humbled I’ve been the past couple of weeks by the way friends and family have gathered around us, supported us, encouraged us, and carried us in these early days of our family crisis. It is a true display of God’s love, in that it is so undeserved, but so welcome and so needed. Every day I have a renewed commitment to being that person to someone else when it’s my turn, to being the friend that so many have been to me. 

For this month’s Meet the Author, I want to introduce you to Katherine Reay. Katherine writes books that are full of literary references, stories that are perfect to read when you want something both light and thoughtful. I enjoy the way she explores different relationship dynamics, and the way her characters grow. Without further ado...meet Katherine Reay: 

What is your favorite part of the writing process, and least favorite part of the writing process?

Ah… It’s the part I am not currently working within. I’m joking a bit, but not entirely. It’s a little “the grass is always greener”… 

When I first stare at that initial blank screen with only a kernel of an idea, I wish I was in edits. Yet, at the end of edits, when I can’t   look at one more line of the novel I’ve been digging into for a year, I want that thrill of a new idea. 

But, if forced to pick one part, it would be the moment I crack open the manuscript after my first edit letter. The time comes about three days after I’ve read the letter and my subconscious has worked out many of the issues it raised. I then get to approach the story with fresh insights. And, thankfully, that’s when some of the “magic” happens. 

Where is someplace you feel most at home?

I moved around a lot growing up and my grandparents’ cottage in Northern Michigan was a haven every summer. I still love visiting there and feel very at home. That said, after moving so many times, wherever my family is becomes home very quickly. 

Now, for writing, it’s my office. I am not a coffee-shop writer. I prefer to be at my own standing desk in my cork board walled office. It’s an amazing place — and I can pin anything I want on the walls. 

Tell us about someone who has inspired you creatively.

Looking at a few of my book titles (Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, The Austen Escape…), the obvious answer is Jane Austen. Yet C.S. Lewis has inspired me more. In his fiction, he always put story first and never wasted a word. He layered meanings within the action and characters while keeping the eye on the movement and arc of the fiction, rather than everything going on underneath. I have learned a lot from reading him over the years. 

Visual artists also inspire my writing a great deal — studying how to express ideas and beauty across different mediums fascinates me. I think that’s why you often find artists within my stories. 

What kind of books do you gravitate towards in your own reading life?

All books. I am a super eclectic reader. I love fantasy, mysteries, drama, suspense, character-driven stories, literary fiction, nonfiction… I only shy away from horror. My imagination is too vivid and some images — the entire Silence of the Lambs movie — I carry with me forever. At any given time, I have at least three books going at once. One is always a hot new title, one is always a nonfiction read, and the other is whatever captures my interest at that time — or what my book club has selected for the month. 

What is your super power?

Laundry. It’s not glamorous, but it’s proven pretty valuable over the years. I can get a stain out of anything! 

One of the best pieces of advice you've ever gotten.

Since you didn’t ask writing advice specifically, I’m going to give life advice. I don’t remember where I heard it, but I liked it so much I used it in The Austen Escape. Here’s Nathan describing a bit of advice his grandfather gave him: 

“He said that how people treat you is only 10 percent about you and 90 percent about them, so you need to be careful how you react and how you judge. You never know someone’s story.” 

I find that’s a good bit of wisdom to remember most everyday. 

Katherine Reay is a national bestselling and award-winning author of several novels, including Dear Mr. Knightley and The Printed Letter Bookshop. She has enjoyed a lifelong affair with books and brings that love to her contemporary stories. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University. She currently writes full time and lives outside Chicago, IL with her husband and three children. You can meet Katherine at www.katherinereay.com or on Facebook: KatherineReayBooks, Twitter: @katherine_reay and Instagram: @katherinereay.

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