August...

what to read when it's too hot to breathe, plus an interview with author Chad Alan Gibbs

Hello, friends! I’m in my usual dog-days-of-summer-August funk, in which the heat and humidity threaten to break me and I want to do absolutely nothing. Fortunately, reading and writing can be done in the comfort of my air conditioned home. I also like to perk myself up looking at pictures from earlier summer adventures, preferably while eating some delicious fresh summer produce, which is really the saving grace of August. School has been postponed until September 8, which I think will be good, but the kids are getting restless. Fortunately on that front, the littlest has a birthday in a week which means we get a few new toys to distract them! 

Reading: 

Saving Ruby King, by Catherine Adel West. This book is one that rips your heart out and puts it back together again. The author does a great job with all the different character voices, including the church itself, which provides a bit of zoomed out perspective. I loved how she wrote a story that was so tense with secrets and hurt, and while the ending wasn’t an everything-wrapped-up-in-a-bow-tidy ending, it was satisfying and hopeful.

Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison

Latasha is a wise, patient, and gentle teacher. Be the Bridge is a blend of history, personal stories, Biblical perspective, and practical action steps to actively pursue racial reconciliation. It’s inspiring when read on its own, but would be an excellent book to read as part of a Bible study or book club. 

A Man of Honor, or Horatio’s Confession, by J.A. Nelson. I knew virtually nothing about this book before I read it (although I guessed by the title that it was Hamlet adjacent), and it was a really fun read. The story takes place after the events of Hamlet, as told by Horatio. It’s action-packed political intrigue with a wonderfully strong sense of place. Also, I happened to listen to it on audio, and the narrator was excellent.

The Glass Hotel by Hilary St. John Mandell

I really enjoyed The Glass Hotel although I find it’s a little hard to summarize because there’s not really a big, overarching plot. Similar to the author’s book Station Eleven (which I also loved), it’s more about characters, themes, and loosely connected micro-plots. I fully understand that kind of novel isn’t everyone’s jam, but when done well it is right up my alley--and this one is done well. It’s about connection, choices, compromise, and ghosts (I’m just re-reading this sentence and wishing there was a good “c” word for ghosts). 

Listenting to:

Folklore, by Taylor Swift. I’ve not ever had much interest in Taylor Swift’s pop music (it’s not bad, just not my usual listening preference), but her new album is right up my alley. It’s moody and mellow, with beautiful music and catchy lyrics that tell stories. It’s the kind of album I can play on repeat and not get tired of. (tip: if you decide to give it a listen, there’s a “clean” version if you prefer to avoid explicit lyrics).

Pantsuit Politics podcast. I don’t regularly listen to this podcast, but I’m always glad when I do. It’s nice to hear political analysts whose discussions are nuanced and gracious. I might not always agree with them, but even when I don’t I walk away with something to think about. They recently did a four part series called “How to Be a Citizen”, a sort of primer on engaging in the political process in the US, and the “Media Literacy” episode especially was excellent. 

Watching:

We watched the original Mary Poppins for our family movie night this week, and it made me so happy! Mary Poppins was one of my absolute favorite movies as a kid. We’ve already listened to a few of the songs from the soundtrack, and the kids have been talking about their favorite parts, so I think it was a win. (I also really enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns, so I’m looking forward to watching that with the kids sometime in the next few months too). 

Grateful for:

Like I mentioned above, I’m grateful for the upcoming birthday in our house. It’s nice to have something to look forward to, and something to celebrate. I’ve also been extra grateful all summer for our Amazon Music subscription. Music is important to me, and being able to listen to such a vast library is wonderful, especially when we’re home a lot. The kids have figured out how to play their favorites too, and I like that they’re able to connect with music and develop their own interest in it. 

Meet the Author: Chad Alan Gibbs

And here we are with the second installment of my new favorite thing, where you all get to hear a little bit from an author I admire! Chad Gibbs is the author of Two Like Me and You and The Rome of Fall. I absolutely ADORED both of these books. They’re a wonderful combination of funny and heartfelt; depth and poignancy surrounded by razor sharp humor. Without further ado, meet Chad Gibbs...

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

Least favorite is the first draft. It's so easy for me to lose momentum. But I love every draft after that. Once there is something to work with and improve I'm energized by the process, but putting those first words down can be a trudge.

2.  Where is someplace you feel most at home?

Auburn, Alabama, where I live now. I went to college here, and still remember visiting for the first time. It somehow felt more like home than my hometown, even though at the time I was a fan of a rival school. I met my wife in school here, and we were gone for seven years while she completed medical school and her residency, but we moved back in 2010 and it's hard to imagine ever leaving

3. Tell us about someone who has inspired you creatively.

I'm blown away by Colson Whitehead. I read his book The Noble Hustle when it came out. It's a hilarious account of his adventures at the World Series of Poker. Then to see him switch gears and write two powerful and haunting novels (The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys) that both won the Pulitzer Prize is just amazing. Though I'm not sure if he inspires me creatively, or makes me want to quit because he's just so good what's the point in trying. 

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

I like to think I'm an eclectic reader. So far this year I've read 16 books, 10 novels and 6 non-fiction, and it's a random list. I do gravitate toward books with humor though. 

5. What is your super power?

The ability to find humor in almost any situation. Also, I can take a nap any time of day

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

Don't assemble your baby's crib in the living room while watching television, because it will be too big to move down the hall to their room. As for writing advice, everything Anne Lamott says about first drafts.

www.chadalangibbs.com

www.instagram.com/chadgibbs

July

Read with a cuppa tea

Hi, friends! This month starts our new “Meet the Author” Series, and I’m really excited about it! I love introducing people to new books, and thought it might be fun to also introduce everyone to the authors of a handful of books that I’ve enjoyed. During the series, I’ll still be talking about the things I’m reading and consuming this month (because that’s what we’re all here for!), but definitely stick around -- or even just scroll straight down to the end -- for the good stuff.

What I’m Reading...

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates popped up on my radar last month when a lot of people started sharing books about race and injustice, and titles by Black authors. Between the Worldand Me is a memoir written as letters by Coates to his son, about his experience growing up in Baltimore and as a young adult. He’s an excellent writer, gifted at painting a picture with words and drawing the reader into his experiences.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota, J. Ryan Stradel was just as delightful as Stradel’s first book (which I mentioned in the last newsletter). Lager Queen had a more straightforward narrative, but still told through multiple points of view and with the vivid Midwestern setting. It’s a story about family, ambition, and persevering through difficult situations.

On the Come Up, Angie Thomas is a young adult novel about a girl whose passion for becoming a rapper is challenged by the challenges and struggles of her everyday life. It was a completely engrossing story, with a few cheer-worthy moments that made me want to stand up and fist pump. I’m also a sucker for great characters in my stories, and all the characters in On the Come Up were so real and compelling. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen me post about the Summer at the Garden Cafe, by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, and my comment that it’s like taking a holiday to the Western coast of Ireland. Rather than have a single narrative, the novel is more like a peek into the lives of people who are connected by their town, and so the reader is treated to stories of friendship, new love, grief, and family secrets. It was a slower-paced book, but sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood for. 

What I’m listening to...

A couple of years ago I discovered the Irish band Beoga when they were on tour with one of my favorite bands (Needtobreathe). They came out with a new album last month-- Carousel-- and I am OBSESSED. There are songs that are bright and cheerful, and a few that are more thoughtful and melancholy, and overall it’s a fantastic mix, and has definitely been on repeat for the past few weeks. The littlest munchkin even asks to listen to one of the songs off the album all the time. 

Something I’m grateful for...

Armed with masks and soap and cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer, we were able to visit my family in Missouri this summer like we’ve been doing for the past few years. Getting to spend time with my siblings and parents, and watching my kids get to play and have fun with their grandparents and cousins is such a treat and I’m really thankful for it. I’m also grateful that Jeremy and I got to spend a week with some dear friends in Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota (socially distant from anyone else, and once again safely armed with masks and soap and cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer). God’s creation is amazing, the mountains are even more breathtaking than I remember, and I am thankful not only to have shared the experience with people I care about, but to have been reminded how much nature feeds my soul.

Meet author Laura Thomas

I discovered Laura through the Hope Writers community. She put out a call for people who might want to be on the launch team for her newest novel, and I’d never been part of a launch team, so it sounded fun (spoiler: it was!). Laura exudes warmth and generosity, and that definitely comes through in her writing as well as her online presence. 

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

With book writing, I especially like the exhilaration and relief in completing that first draft of a manuscript—even if it’s terrible (which it always is!) I know I can then go back and do the hard work of revision until I deem it good enough to submit.

And that leads me to my least favorite part of writing: deeming it good enough to submit! Knowing when to finally stop with the edits and let that baby go. It’s incredibly hard for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. Argh. 

Where is someplace you feel most at home?

By the ocean. Any ocean. Preferably with a book in hand, under a palm tree. 

I have lived inland for the past couple of decades, where we have gorgeous lakes—but I still miss the salt and sounds of the sea. It reminds me of my childhood. It brings me home. 

What is a fictional place you would enjoy visiting?

As I’m so fond of the ocean, why not visit Orphan Beach from my latest novel? I set it in Colima, Mexico, and have actually been to that area on a couple of mission trips years ago, but this particular beach is fictional. It’s not only stunning with its white sand and turquoise waters, it holds both spine-chilling and spectacular memories for my beloved characters. It would be so fun to visit! 

Tell us about someone who has inspired you creatively?

At a writing conference several years ago, the keynote speaker was prolific author, Angela Hunt. At that time, I was second-guessing writing in more than one genre and had been quite discouraged by a literary agent. I managed to find Angela Hunt between sessions and knowing she wrote in several genres, I asked for some advice. 

She suggested that if God had truly stirred my heart to write a particular story or book in whatever genre—who was I to question Him? That encouraged me so much. I decided at that moment to listen more to God’s voice and worry less about the voice of other people. As a result, my creativity has blossomed and I enjoy writing “heartwarming encouragement for your soul” in several different genres! 

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

I try to mix it up and add variety but I’m rather a mood reader. Definitely more fiction when I’m in relaxation mode and non-fiction when I am more focused on learning in “work-time”. 

In fiction, I especially enjoy the drama and tension in Christian romantic suspense (one of the reasons why I decided to write that genre), but I also have a soft spot for historical fiction in the WWII era. I take many book recommendations from the “What Should I Read Next?” podcast by Anne Bogel—it’s such a wonderful resource. 

What is your super power?

Baking. Baking is my jam and I can tempt the strongest will with my sugary delights! 

I also simply love to bring joy by feeding people a little sweetness.

Hmm you may have given me inspiration for a children’s book here… 

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

Something that stands out and has nothing to do with writing per se was given to my husband and I when we came home from our honeymoon (32 years ago!) We were at a huge Christian conference in Wales listening to apologist, author, and speaker, Josh McDowell, and happened to get an opportunity to meet him afterwards. (I realize I may sound like I stalk speakers at conferences, but I promise I do not!) He commented on our very un-Welsh tans, and we explained that we just returned home from our honeymoon in Cyprus. He said,

“Never come off your honeymoon, kids. My wife and I have been married many years, and we never came off our honeymoon. It’s the best advice I can give you.”

Brilliant advice. Those words of wisdom have served us well as we have navigated married life, always remembering the love that drew us to one another in the first place, making date nights a priority, and keeping the “honeymoon” alive! And I happen to believe this little piece of advice may have been instrumental in me writing romance into my novels. I would never have imagined that 32 years ago! 

Thanks for talking with us, Laura!

Laura writes heartwarming encouragement for your soul. She has three Christian romantic suspense novels published as well as a Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, and middle-grade novel. She is published in several anthologies and writes devotionals for Union Gospel Press. Her articles and stories are published in magazines and online, and she shares musings on her blog. She is represented by literary agent Clye Young with her children’s books.

Laura is a chocoholic mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart. Originally from the UK, they live in Kelowna, British Columbia as audacious empty-nesters.

Find her books, blog, and coaching atwww.laurathomasauthor.com

INSTAGRAM: @lauracthomas 

FACEBOOK PAGE: @LauraThomasAuthor

TWITTER: @Laura_Thomas_

PINTEREST: lauracthomas

GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5837074.Laura_Thomas

BOOKBUB: https://bit.ly/2Uj4gyR

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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!

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