Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links that help our site! Thank you for supporting me! xoxo
Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links that help our site! Thank you for supporting me! xoxo
These smashed potatoes with garlic pesto look like a perfect winter side dish.
Easy and affordable ways to add more hygge in your life. I’m trying to add more of this in my life!
I’ll have to remember to use my blow dryer on stickers next time!
6 helpful travel apps to take with you on your next trip!
I always love a good boat-neck tee and these look like winners for my next capsule.
A quick tip to get your stainless steel pots and pans looking like new again– must try this!
I love this organizing strategy for game controllers.
OMG! How cute is this?!? I loved this movie!
Speaking of movies, I am reading this book and it is CRAZY good. I can’t wait until the film comes out!
Check out this 100 postcards journey– impressive and moving!
Busy is a refusal to sit with yourself. I needed to read this today.
I’m going to make these burger bites for our next board game night. Such a fun spin on finger food.
The sweaty girl embarrassment cure company sent me a coupon to share with you- here’s 20% off your purchase. It’s the best gift I gave myself this year!
14 fabulous shops for affordable art– bookmarking for our home!
Add these 17 things to your car and you will be set for any emergency!
I love this idea to trade in the television for a projector. What a great use of space!
Ohhhh….this is sounding promising!
Do you work from home? I’m dying laughing over this emergency call for help.
I am so excited to share eight books that I read this month with you. It was a really incredible month of reading and we have even got to feature a couple of these authors in our Sundays With Writers series before revealing this month’s list. Sometimes I just can’t wait for a monthly round-up to connect you with a good book!
Regardless of your taste, I have something for everyone this month. Selections range from true crime to fantasy to historical fiction to contemporary to a memoir-type advice column. I am hoping one of these books finds its way into your stack since I try to add a lot of variety to each month’s round-up!
As my daughter & I embark on a Spring Break trip together (just us two!!), I am sure I will have many more books to share with you while we are on our break. Let me know if there is anything that you think I should read while we are on vacation. I’d love to hear your recommendations.
Let’s not waste any more time! Here are 8 new books that I indulged in this month!
If you are a regular reader on the blog, you know I have talked, and talked, and talked about this book. What I want to say is that you should only read my brief description below and go into this one without knowing anything. It will make the book so much more enjoyable- I promise.
This book reads a bit like a mystery as you try to solve the puzzle of a child’s unusual first years of life. The story intertwines with a doctor nearing the end of his career due to a deadly diagnosis and he could be the only one who could make Noah and his mother’s life better. What Noah is suffering from is beyond what any parent could comprehend.
Gripping, thought provoking, and and an excellent pick for any book club!
After you are done reading it, you can read my interview with Sharon Guskin as we discuss her debut novel. It’s a REALLY interesting interview and it gave me a lot to think about!
Good grief, Be Frank With Me, was just adorable from start to finish- I can’t recommend it enough!
Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.
When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.
As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.
Frank is one one of the sweetest characters that is so perfectly formed that you just want to give this sweet little boy a hug when you get done with this book. I found myself giggling through some of Frank’s antics and well up when he just couldn’t fit in with his peers. I can’t imagine the research that went into forming all of Frank’s numerous thoughts about actors, movies, and all the fun facts that he had gathered over the years that seemed to consume him. The supporting characters were just as fascinating especially Frank’s eccentric mother.
The only criticism with this one is the ending felt unresolved and wasn’t wrapped up very tidy- it just left me dangling. I am wondering if that is because the author plans a sequel. If so, I can’t wait to read it because I already miss Frank.
I am so excited that Julia will be joining us this week for our Sundays With Writers series. You won’t want to miss it- she’s absolutely charming! Be sure to check back on Sunday!
This book was selected by my local book club and was, admittedly, a book that I probably would not have picked up on my own. I am so incredibly glad I read it though and I think you will be too.
I just love when a book educates you on a time in history that you have been completely unaware of. Ryan pulls off a magnificent literary feat by tackling six decades set in Taiwan over the course of the twentieth century. It is horrific what so many endured during this time and begins with the story of the unnamed narrator’s father being captured because he is suspected of Communist activities. He is kept for over a decade in brutal and inhumane conditions. It then follows his return home, the unkindness of others, the stress of feeling watched, and the other generations that continue to struggle through the decades with their own issues. It’s far too much to go into in a quick review, but you will learn a lot along the way!
Things I would note with this one. First, I wish I would have educated myself a bit before diving into it. I knew nothing about the Chinese nationalists or the history of Taiwan and the author offers no real introduction into the history of that, assuming the reader can follow along. After a browse through Wikipedia, I was able to understand better, but it was a confusing time in politics and reading that first would have helped me through the book.
Secondly, the book did lag for me in parts, but the good parts in this far outweigh the slow parts. Power through and I hope this time in history is as eye-opening for you as it was me. She is a masterful storyteller and I’m glad I read this!
I am also so very honored that Shawna will be joining us this next month for Sundays With Writers. While researching for this interview, I am astonished at the level of commitment she had to this book. I can’t wait to share that with you!
Editor’s Note- This book does contain graphic violence that was inflicted on these prisoners.
I have been wanting to read this one since Laura, from Hollywood Housewife, shared her list of best true crime novels.
It is impossible to read this book and not learn something new about the devastating Columbine tragedy. Cullen dedicated a decade of his life compiling the real facts around this case and the lives impacted by this senseless tragedy. Working from what is happening currently and flashing back to the preparations for this crime, we are able to get a clearer understanding of motive in a very eye-opening way.
Cullen also opens our eyes to the fictionalized stories that were shared by the media and the true psychological problems that these shooters had, their motives behind the shooting, and those dealing with the aftermath of these tragedies as students, teachers, parents, and community members. After you read how the media botched the reporting up on so much of this, I guarantee it will make you feel differently about what is reported in the world.
The psychological research on these two killers and how so many of these victims reclaimed their lives again makes for a truly compelling read.
Editor’s Note- This book does contain graphic violence and language.
I have loved reading the GoodReads Choice Award nominations this year. If you haven’t taken a peek at the list, I have gathered the nominees for you!
The Perfect Son is a beautiful story of a struggling father and son relationship and the mother that holds them together. When Ella has an unexpected heart attack, the result of a heart condition, and must be hospitalized the men in the family must come together to help her and themselves. As a strained relationship between a father and son becomes further strained Felix finds himself suddenly in charge of his son who has Tourette’s and needs more assistance than most teenage boys. Forced to reconcile their differences, they find comfort in unlikely friends and in each other.
It was such an honor to chat with Barbara about her book and about parenting a child with an invisible disability. Even if you don’t grab her book (which you should), I gained so much wisdom from asking her about the letting go process as you see your kids off to college. It’s a really good read!
I hope you love her book as much as I did!
I am one of those people that has a hard time committing to series books. Are you that way too? When I was asked to help promote the new movie though, I thought I better get familiar with the series.
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences.
I loved this book even more than I thought I would, although I know I am a bit behind on the times embracing this one. I had been avoiding it because so many had compared it to the Hunger Games series and I doubted much could live up to that. Although there were similarities, I loved the world that Roth created, the factions that divide society and limitations they create in relationships, and the love story. I’m really happy I read this one!
Should I keep continuing through this book series? Let me know!
Have you joined our book club yet? I hope you can join in on the fun this year!
In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and he’s got his sights set on a senate seat in November.
But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Frank’s cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tiny’s rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husband’s promising career.
Once again, our book club pushes me to try another new book. This month’s read was, Tiny Beautiful Things
I, honestly, would have never picked this book up if it had not been selected as a book club pick. Dear Sugar was an anonymous online advice column that Stray answered letters she received online under the name of Sugar. This book is a collection of some of her greatest answers to life’s questions.
The thing that made it so different is typically advice columnist do not interject their own stories and opinions into their advice, while Strayed wrote honestly about her own struggles in a way that was raw, gritty, and real. Shocking at times were her own struggles that spilled on the pages, but beauty & truth was weaved into these answers too. It would be impossible to not a get a nugget out of each answer, even if the situation didn’t relate to you. Her advice to her younger self, a letter written to graduates, and the struggles of when someone should start a family were three of the pieces that really stood out to me. Not for the faint of heart if vulgarity isn’t your thing. If you can handle it though, it’s worth the read!
I still have not picked up her book, Wild, yet. What did you think of it? Please let me know if it is worth the read!
*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.
I am so honored to be interviewing Gilly Macmillan today to talk about her debut novel, What She Knew. I am always game for a good thriller, but can we be honest and say that many rarely deliver? It is tough to surprise seasoned readers, isn’t it? Well, I am so happy to say that this one really delivers in the thriller category and kept me guessing until the final page. I am not the only one that fell in love with this book. What She Knew is an IndieBound Pick, a Target Book Club Pick, A LibraryReads List Pick, and a Featured Book for Book-Of-The-Month Club for December 2015.
In a heartbeat, everything changes…
Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.
Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.
Macmillan delivers a solid thriller that left me guessing right up until the final pages. Narration is done well through the eyes of the detective, the mother, and social media outlets who tell the story of an eight year-old boy who goes missing on a walk with his mother in the woods.
The author weaves enough loose ends to create a well curated variety of suspects that lead you down the wrong trails in the woods yourself and creates great tension as the stability of the child’s own mother comes into question.
I included this book in our February Must-Reads list!
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Gilly for the scoop behind her spellbinding thriller, What She Knew.
So many scenes in What She Knew were difficult to write from an emotional point of view, but the press conference was definitely one of the hardest. It’s the moment when Rachel’s private nightmare goes public, and I found it heart-wrenching to put her in that situation. She has to gather herself, at one of the most raw and difficult moments that she’ll ever have to live through in her life, and face the media, and the wider world and also remain composed enough to address somebody who may have taken her child. I lived every moment of that scene with her as I wrote it, and it was painful.
It’s interesting that you should ask whether I would have responded in the same way as Rachel, because that’s something my husband and I discussed! I think I would certainly share many of her feelings, and I channeled much of myself into her emotional reaction to her son’s disappearance. However, I do have a very practical side and I might have been more careful than Rachel to try to keep my feelings under control when I needed to, and I might also have felt driven to try to do something practical, as Rachel’s sister does in the novel. Having said that, however, I suspect that when we’ve only ever been on the outside of an extreme situation like the one Rachel finds herself in, we can never really know for sure what it feels like to be on the inside, and how we would behave. We can only hope we would do the right things.
The decision to do no research for the first draft of What She Knew was intentional, and came about because I was time-short. My three kids were all settled into school, so I had a bit of time on my hands for the first time in years as I’d been caring for them more or less full-time, but money was getting tight, so I knew I only had a small window to have a go at writing a book before I needed to get a ‘proper’ job. This meant that I couldn’t afford to spend lots of that time researching, so I decided to write about something that I knew (motherhood), locate it in the city I live in (Bristol, UK), and write 1,000 words a day until I had a completed book (every day I recorded how many words I’d written on a sheet of paper that became increasingly dog-eared over the months as the total increased).
What resulted from that effort was a draft of the book that told the story entirely from Rachel’s point of view. It was a messy draft, and I had inevitably made lots of the mistakes you might expect from a rookie writer, but I sent off the first three chapters and they were just enough to get me an agent.
Being signed up by an agent who had confidence in my work – even though she also had a lot of issues with it! – was the thing that finally made me take myself a bit more seriously as a writer. With my agent’s help, and realizing that this might be my one shot at being a writer, I really got down to work on the manuscript. I began to research the subject in earnest, and work on layering up the novel, and I decided to create the detective’s character, as I felt that Rachel’s voice needed a counterpoint, somebody who would take a more professional view of the case and let the reader see into the investigation.
In retrospect, although some might say that it was a very disorganised way to write a book, I do believe that the way I worked helped me to get Rachel’s voice down in a really direct way right from the outset. I hope that means that, in spite of all the changes and edits that have taken place since the first draft, Rachel’s narrative hasn’t lost its power as the honest, unfiltered words of a mother whose child has disappeared and whose story forms the spine of the novel.
Part of my process of developing the book after the first draft was to comb over all of the fine details that I wanted to be as accurate as possible. I spoke to police officers and researched child abduction and I also paid careful attention to real life cases. There were two of these, both high profile, that took place in the UK while I was writing the novel. In the first instance I experienced these cases as I always had done, ie via traditional media reporting, but as I dug a little deeper I discovered that the cases were also being discussed by individuals all over social media and in the comments sections attached to online newspaper reports. I’d never really paid attention to that stuff before but it struck me straight away that if I included this kind of thing in the book, it could be a very interesting to let the reader experience the case of Ben’s abduction in the way that they might in real life, alongside the versions of events that they learn from my two narrators.
What made my decision easy in the end, was that the comments and social media pages that I read were alive with opinion, fizzing with it, and I was surprised at the strength of people’s feelings and how polarized opinion was, and how much they judged the people involved even though they only had access to a tiny amount of verified information. It was too powerful to ignore. I knew that if I was Rachel I would have found it tremendously difficult to know that it was going on out there, in addition to the very private pain I was feeling and so social media had to almost become a character in its own right.
I’ve thought a lot about why people victimize others in this way. I think it’s often a combination of factors, but there are a few which stand out to me. First and foremost, the internet offers little or no accountability for what we say online, so people behave more badly than they might otherwise. Chat forums where people state their opinions very bluntly, combined with sensationalist headlines, can heighten emotions and feelings in a large group of people very quickly. Combine that with the speed at which things can travel on the internet and the fear and misunderstanding that can spring from emotional, unreasoned debate and an aggressive pack mentality can develop swiftly. I also think that our ability to comment freely online, and engage with others easily and anonymously if we wish, makes us more susceptible to feeling emotionally involved in events that are really nothing to do with us, and that in other circumstances we might keep a respectful distance from. These factors all combine to make Rachel a victim of the internet, as well as of a crime, in What She Knew.
The ending posed a challenge in many ways. As a mom, in my very first draft, I veered away from a realistic ending, because I wanted to make everything nice for everybody, because that’s what we do, right? We tuck everybody up at the end of the day and tell them to have sweet dreams. However, I was advised that the too-nice ending didn’t sit well with the rest of the story, and readers might feel dissatisfied, so I took advice from my agent and experimented with other options. The final choice of ending came down to the fact that What She Knew is at its heart a story about a terrible crime, but also about a mother, and a child, and a detective who cares, and my desire to get as much veracity into the novel as possible. For me, the ending we finally settled on seemed to do justice to both the story, and the characters, and also felt truthful, which was so important to me. I’m a big reader myself and I like to feel that an author hasn’t cheated me in the end, but has stayed true to the story. It’s been really interesting since publication to hear reader’s views on the ending.
When I first sat down for a cup of coffee with some real (retired) detectives I described the set-up at the beginning of the book when Ben goes missing, as I had written it in an early draft. Ben goes missing late on a Sunday afternoon in the woods, as darkness is about to fall, and I told the detectives that in response to his disappearance I had fictionally mobilized air support, search teams with dogs, and on horses, and had a vast amount of manpower combing the area within an hour or two of the call being made to police. They were aghast! I still remember their faces across the table now. No, they told me, at dusk on a Sunday evening in the woods, the police would certainly attend, but you would probably only get a couple of uniformed officers and if you were lucky you might get one extra officer with a dog, but that would be it! This was mostly because of the darkness, but also because of budgets and available manpower at that time.
Their advice was a reality check for me and I had to rewrite all of the scenes at the start of the book. I realized I had assumed too much, and I actually knew almost nothing about police procedure or about many of the challenges of detective work. Needless to say, we didn’t just have one cup of coffee. A few hours, and a few rounds of sandwiches and many more pots of coffee, and some follow-up emails later, I had learned so much from them about the police and how they operate and I found all of it fascinating. They gave me a great deal of practical advice but what I also took from them is how much they cared about their jobs and how every case is complicated and challenging and sometimes very frustrating for even the most dedicated detective, and I wanted to be sure to do the demands of the profession justice, and to bring some of that realism into the story. It added a whole new dimension to the book, and in particular to my detective’s story.
As I said above, it was a sense that I had a one-off window of opportunity to try to do this that really spurred me on, because I knew that I wouldn’t dare to quit a paying job to write a book, so it was now or never. My time management took a lot of work, but the thing that really got me writing was to make a rule that I couldn’t do anything else – no tidying, laundry, dog-walking, surface-wiping, etc. – until I’d written 1,000 words each day. I’m not good at working in the evening when I’m tired (I wish I was!) so that meant I would sit down and start to write the minute I got back from dropping the kids off at school in the morning, when my head was clear, and I had a big incentive to get on with my word count so that I could leave my desk with enough time to get everything else done. My social life suffered a bit, as did household organization, and I had to pull away from being involved in school associations and that sort of thing, but it was worth it.
My advice to anybody else would be to try to carve out an amount of time, however small, where you can write each day and guard it fiercely. That way, even if you can only find time to write a few hundred words each day, you are progressing, and you will be able to make it to the end. Keep track of that word count too, because it’s encouraging to see it rising. Also – don’t beat yourself up if your first draft isn’t a polished work, or even close to one. Once, it’s done, it gives you something to improve and work on. Often, the whole process felt like an exercise in holding my nerve as much as anything else so that would be my advice too: hold your nerve, and don’t assume that it can’t be you.
Yes, I am! I’m currently working on my third novel and this will be a sequel to What She Knew and I’m delighted to say that Jim will be back. It’s really wonderful to revisit Jim’s character, as I’ll admit that I’m very fond of him, and starting to write him again was like visiting an old friend. It’s still early days for that novel, but I will certainly be referencing the Ben Finch case from What She Knew and exploring the impact that it’s had on Jim as he tries to move forward with his life, and his career.
Before that book hits the shelves, though, my second novel will be out in Fall 2016. It’s a standalone book called The Perfect Girl and is about a girl called Zoe, who is a 17-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ and a secret in her past that she and her mother will go to extraordinary lengths to protect. The book is about one night, where Zoe is giving a performance that her mother, Maria, has been planning for months, but by midnight, Maria is dead. Like What She Knew, it’s a book with family and parenting themes, and asks questions about how far we push our children and ourselves in pursuit of that perfect family ideal, and how often life offers us second chances if we get things wrong.
The first true crime book that I ever read was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I loved it, and was absolutely gripped by it. I’m not sure I’ve read much true crime since then, though I read a lot of crime fiction as you might expect, and I’m always up for a good recommendation! Recently, I’ve found myself addicted to the Serial podcasts and also the Making of a Murderer documentary and I recommend those very highly if you’re into true crime, though I expect many of your readers will know them already. The intricacies of the cases, and the way you get to know something about the personalities involved is what hooks me, and I’m struck by just how often truth can be stranger than fiction.
We changed very little, as the US publishers wanted to keep an English feel to the novel. There were the usual obvious swaps of words like ‘pavement’ for ‘sidewalk’ and that sort of thing, but that was extent of it within the novel. The biggest change was the title. In the UK the book is called Burnt Paper Sky, which is a reference to a description in the book of the moment when Ben goes missing and his mother realizes that the sky above is darkening at the edges like burning paper. The US publisher felt that they would prefer something less opaque so they came up with What She Knew and I was very happy to approve that as I thought it was a terrific title.
‘Stumbled into’ is the right description for our involvement in Call the Midwife, though it has been and remains an amazing experience for my son. A few years ago we were facing a long summer at home and I was looking out for things for my kids to do when a friend emailed with an opportunity for boys to audition for a part in the choir in a local theatre production of the play Coram Boy. It looked like fun, and my son is musical, so we went along one day, and he took his violin as they said they also wanted to see young violinists. The outcome was that after two auditions, and in spite of almost no drama experience, he was offered one of the main roles! It was a wonderful surprise and a wonderful experience: months of rehearsal that culminated in a huge Christmas production with performances over a few days in front of thousands. It was at one of those performances where the director of the first series of Call the Midwife spotted Max, and asked us if he’d like to audition for the role of the doctor’s son, Timothy Turner, in Call the Midwife, as he had a good resemblance to the actor who played the doctor. Originally, it was just supposed to be a single day of work filming just one scene in the Season Two Christmas Special, so we agreed, as we thought it would be a fantastic experience. Since then however, Max’s role has grown as the show has, and shooting for the sixth series begins soon, which will be Max’s fifth year of involvement. He’s in fewer episodes now that he’s older, as we have to limit his availability for shooting to make sure it doesn’t have a negative impact on schoolwork or musical interests, but he still loves every minute of it.
This is such a hard question! There are so many books I could list, but I’m going to go with Paula by Isabel Allende. The book tells the true-life story of the author’s daughter’s sudden and unexpected illness, which befalls her when she’s a young adult. That story is interspersed with the history of their family and the story of Isabel Allende’s own extraordinary life. It’s a powerful, heart-wrenching account of a mother’s love for her daughter, and one woman’s path through all of the big moments in life: love, motherhood, work, grief, joy and family. It’s raw and honest, powerful and heart-wrenching, and beautifully told.