Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) by Claire Cook


“I think we all have that sweet spot—the place where the life we want to live and our ability intersect. For some, the trick is finding it.

For others, like me, deep down inside you already know what you want, so it’s about finding the courage to dig up that dream and dust it off. It’s not too late. Dreams don’t have an expiration date. Not even a best by date. If it’s still your dream, it’s still your dream.”                                                        ~Claire Cook


The Book

So many of us are there—hanging in limbo somewhere between the life we fell into and those dreams we’ve clung to or rediscovered. Maybe you’ve just figured out what you really want to be when you grow up, even though you’re very grown up—30s, 40s, 50s, or more. Perhaps your aspirations were derailed by real life: marriage led to a big mortgage, kids led to spending your time taxiing from school to soccer meets. Your career went on hold, or in a direction that was convenient and manageable.

But it’s not what you’d dreamed of once upon a time.

You have an itch—that niggling feeling of what you really want to be doing with your life. You want to write a book, make jewelry, open your own business—some creative outlet that might not work financially (yet) but would fulfill that need within. Your dream. Your passion.

But how do you turn yourself around and chase after that dream? How do your reinvent your life?

You open Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) and let USA Today bestselling author Claire Cook share her experiences and inspiration.

The Author:

Claire Cook has been called the “Queen of Reinvention.” She wrote her first novel in a minivan at age 45 while her kids were at swim practice. Five years later, she strolled down the red carpet at the premier of the movie adaptation of the second novel MUST LOVE DOGS. (Yes, the cute romcom starring John Cusak and Diane Lane.) Now she’s the beloved author of eleven charming contemporary women’s fiction books—and one inspiring non-fiction debut you’ll adore.

Find Claire at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Pinterest

 

Never too late, george elliot quote

I’ve posted this quote before on the blog. Funny how it opens this book…

The Good Stuff:

This book is entertaining, enlightening, and downright helpful if you need to jump-start your motivation. Told with honesty and Claire’s trademark easygoing wit, NEVER TOO LATE is part memoir, part self-help guide, and a whole lot of fun.

Much of the book bounces around her experiences as a speaker at We Move Forward, a women’s conference set on the gorgeous Isla Mujeres, Mexico. The three-day retreat seems to be a deluxe combination of inspirational talks, spiritual soothing, and flat out fun for women from across the globe. Claire shares what she learned from these diverse women, each who found happiness and empowerment in her own unique way.

But before you think this is just another  “You Can Do It Sam”  book or hippy-dippy spiritual guide, let me set you straight. It’s not. It’s spunky and optimistic, but Claire transparently shares the ways she messed up on her journey and the many challenges she still faces. Her section detailing the disintegration of the good ole publishing machine was an eye-opener, and she candidly writes about why she left her big New York agent and publishers after over a decade of being “the hardest working author in the universe.” (You can read an excerpt here on Jane Friedman’s blog.)

Claire also spells out practical how-to steps. She details how keeping a notebook handy for all of your reinvention ideas can be just the thing when you hit a speed bump. (I have about 10 spirals scattered around the house and car. Too many?) And she also explains how slow and steady goals can make the journey to success much more achievable. (Read an excerpt here on WriterUnboxed.com.) After finishing the book, I set my goal and took on her two-pages a day come hell-or-high water challenge. Okay, my version is slightly modified to include work schedules and a ten-year-old, but it’s working. That blinking cursor doesn’t seem so terrifying. It’s only two pages. Even if each word is like tweezing errant eyebrow hairs, I can do that, right? Right.

If it sounds like this book would be most helpful for aspiring authors—you’re correct—partially. Honestly, Claire’s wit and wisdom can be a spark for anyone who needs a charge, whether you dream of opening a dog walking business or climbing K2.

My copy accompanied me on vacation. I kind of felt as if Claire was lounging on a beach chair beside me, sipping on a frozen umbrella drink, and chatting about her experiences. I came back home inspired and ready to get shit done.

claire cook's Road to Reinvention

The Recommendation:

If you’ve conquered your dreams, made billions of bucks, or have shelves full of Oscars/RITAS/Nobel Prizes collecting dust—maybe you don’t need this book.  It’s for the rest of us.

Read it, recommend it to friends, and discuss it with your coffee klatch or book club.

But if you’re one of my friends, you’re going to have to buy your own copy. My personalized paperback isn’t going anywhere.  I’d like to think that the “Congrats on your win” handwritten inside refers to celebrating getting my ass back in that writer’s chair, even if it only is two pages a day. Thanks, Claire.

*Oh, and readers can download a free workbook to help get them on track. Fun. Practical. Fabulous.

The Details:
Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way)
by Claire Cook
291 pages
Marshbury Beach Books (July 15, 2014)

40 Things I’ve Figured Out at 40 (that I wish I’d known at 20)

It’s official. I’m old. At least, I always imagined 40 was old—middle-aged.  My mom was 40 when I went to college. AARP somehow has my address already and they’re not afraid to use it. Strange silver corkscrews occasionally spring from my scalp.

But I don’t feel old.

I do feel wiser. Slightly. I still have so much growing to do, so much to learn and accomplish, but as I unwillingly cross into this new decade, I can appreciate the insight I’ve discovered the hard way. Some of these little croutons of knowledge I still force myself to digest each day. Others I chant like mantras. All of these tidbits I wish I had understood twenty years ago.

#185077520 / gettyimages.com  Catherine Lane

#185077520 / gettyimages.com Catherine Lane

  1.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know something and/or ask for help.
  2. You judge yourself much harsher than anyone else ever will. No one else will ever notice 99% of the things you criticize yourself for.
  3. Realize that people aren’t mind-readers. They usually don’t comprehend how their words/phone calls/tardiness/silence affects you so much.
  4. Learn to let go. That friend who burned you, the guy who dumped you, the loved one who passed away. Whether it’s forgiving, forgetting, or just moving a loss to a less focal spot in your mind—let it go.
  5. Yoga can be as amazing for you outside as inside. Namaste, my friends.
  6. There is no reason to be out at 2 a.m. unless someone is in the hospital.
  7. There is no reason to be awake at 3 a.m. unless someone is puking or crying. (Okay, so people might have been doing this at 20.)
  8. Wear that bikini like crazy when you’re 20. Just because you can wear a bikini at any age, doesn’t mean all of us should.
  9. Your mom is right most of the time.
  10. Cleavage does not equal sexy. You can turn heads in a turtleneck if you radiate confidence.
  11. Don’t let anyone tell you how to parent. Or when to become a parent.
  12. Wearing all the “hottest” trends doesn’t impress. Find your happy niche between. And stop reading Vogue. Now.
  13. Negativity is like a riptide—it will suck all the joy from your life. Avoid negative people, even if they’re family.
  14. What you believe in will change. Maybe not cataclysmically (like going from a faithful Catholic to a devout Hindu) but your beliefs will evolve as you cope with devastating blows and your view of the world broadens.
  15. Jump out of that perfectly good airplane and bungee jump off that bridge while you’re ten-foot-tall and bulletproof…and before just imagining it makes you nauseous.
  16. Credit cards are evil.
  17. Those statistics classes you thought it would be no big deal to skip in college—they will haunt you in your nightmares forever.
  18. Wear sunscreen. ALL THE TIME. Skin cancer sucks.
  19. Blow drying your hair straight every day will fry it by the time you’re 30.
  20. Freckles are beautiful. So is pale skin.
  21. Take more computer classes. You can never learn enough.
  22. Always pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Listen to NPR. Yes, that butterfly blown from the sky in the Middle East will impact your life.
  23. Don’t be so afraid to flirt. Harmlessly, of course. Just because you smile at someone doesn’t mean they think you want to marry them.
  24. Stop being so afraid to fail. So being so afraid, period.
  25. Try running. Or some sport. You won’t always be able to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner and fit into your jeans the next day.
  26. Write more.
  27. Learn how to cook, clean, and do laundry properly. You may never like doing any of those things, but you will have to do them (even if you share responsibility). You won’t have a maid.
  28. You’re life will never unfold as you imagined it. There is no straight line to follow; instead life’s path is more like a twisty skein of yarn. There is no “should have been.” Don’t beat yourself up for what you have not accomplished. Celebrate what you have done. You still have time to find your dreams, even though those dreams have changed.
  29. Not much in life is easy. Learn to fight.
  30. It doesn’t always pay to be the good girl. They get steamrolled, taken advantage of, and are accused of having no guts. Some rules can be need to be broken.
  31. But breaking some rules may break you. Other people will get away with murder. Literally. You’re not that slick. Think before you do something stupid.
  32. Pets are good for the soul, even when they break your heart.
  33. Appreciate the ordinary.
  34. Spend less. Save more.
  35. Stop judging other people’s relationships/bank accounts/tastes/lives. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. And you’re not responsible for their decisions.
  36. People can and will change—but not in the ways you may want.
  37. Stop craving things you can’t have. It will only make you miserable. Cherish what you DO have.
  38. Time does go faster as you get older.
  39. Never stop learning. You don’t know it all and you never will.
  40. You’ll never know if the best is yet to come, so enjoy each glorious/horrible/ordinary day.

 

How about you? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom you’d wish you’d known when you were younger?

 

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned While Working at the Library

#80283498 / gettyimages.com
Andersen Ross Blend Images

Some of you may know that I work in a library. Books are my life, and if I had to be employed outside the home again, I wanted to be around things I adore. And I do love my job: I enjoy helping people, having adult conversations, and just wandering the stacks (okay, I’m usually never just wandering, but even shelving my dear books fills me with joy sometimes). But working at the library has come with more than a few surprises and given me some valuable (and slightly frightening) insight into how people are actually using these venerable institutions.

1. It’s not about the books.

I know. If you’re anything like me, libraries are ALL about the books. We love them, savor them, breathe them. But books are losing popularity, markets are changing, and other services are in high demand. Our library is about DVDs. Then free computer usage. Many cardholders have never checked out a book. I know.

2. Libraries are not quiet anymore.

Cell phones are allowed. And we can’t do the infamous librarian “shhhh” unless we can hear your entire conversation more than three aisles away. Groups gather at our tables for projects, homeowners association meetings, and tutoring sessions. (Including a tutor who uses a ticking metronome!) I once had to politely banish a group of gabbing Girl Scout troop leaders to a far corner because they were yapping like a group of sugared-up Brownies. The building is filled with a constant hum.

3. Very few “real” librarians actually work at the library.

Patrons call a librarian every day. I rather like the title, but alas, I am only a lowly library clerk. Chances are, most staff members at your library are as well. We do most of the same things as a librarian: answer questions, plan and carry out programming, help with research, handle library accounts, and SO MUCH more, but we don’t have that MLS degree. Or maybe we do, but the official position (one per branch, often only a few per county!) is not open. And we work for half the pay. Which is a key factor because…

4. Libraries are as underfunded as schools.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Library funds come from county taxation. Property taxes took a nose dive, which means funds evaporated. Plus fewer residents think they “need” libraries, so the percentage of taxes libraries receive keeps dropping.

5. Some people who work at libraries have no passion for books. None.

I’ll admit—this one knocked my socks off. I’ve had to rationalize it like this: when I worked retail management, I sold and managed many commodities I had absolutely no interest in (like men’s suits, shoes, and underwear). Libraries work the same way. I’d say half of the staff at my branch hasn’t read a book in years. A few listen to audiobooks when they drive. It’s all about customer service and moving a commodity. Meanwhile, I want to cry with joy whenever a patron asks my opinion on books, and I’ve volunteered to “show off” many of my favorite books and create displays to get these books discovered. And don’t even get me started on weeding…

6. Fiction make up a disturbingly small percentage of check-outs…and the numbers are dropping.

Entertainment DVDs make up most of our circulation: around 40%. Next comes Children’s Easy (picture) Books and CDs. Only then comes Adult Fiction and Lease books (new & best sellers) together making less than 15% of total check-outs—and those numbers are about evenly split. Think about it: ALL of the fiction books which aren’t top new releases (i.e. James Patterson, Nora Roberts and the like) make up only 7ish percent of our circulation. People don’t come to the library to check out novels. Well, some do, but not nearly enough.

7. A huge chunk of the population still has no (or very rudimentary) computer skills. And forget about having any concept of the Dewy Decimal system.

I’m guessing they don’t teach library skills in schools anymore. Or make students do research projects that require actually going to a library. Most patrons look at me as if I’ve sprouted a book from my head when I mention that books are actually organized by numbers. They don’t know how to find anything alphabetically or numerically. They can’t figure out how to type a title into the catalog and hit “search.” They just can’t grasp the concept. And our free computers (3 hours of use per day) are a huge draw in my branch’s location. So many people don’t know how to use Google. Or find their email, print, or type a message. Some don’t know how to click on a mouse. Blows my mind. And it’s not just older folks. I push our free computer classes, but so many patrons refuse to take them. How can anyone hold a job now with NO computer skills? You can’t even sign up for food stamps without some computer knowledge (which many folks don’t have, so we became part-time social workers as well).

8. So much material is “lost” because patrons never bother to check it back in.

Let’s say we look for a book—a classic like 1984 for example—that’s in high demand now due to high school summer reading lists (which I love). We may have 45 copies in the system. But that’s all the copies the library system has ever owned. Over the years many have been damaged and withdrawn. Dozens (say 75%) of the copies still show up as checked out with due dates as old as a decade. People just never check them back in and abandon the library system. And don’t even get me started on DVDs…if you want a copy of movie released more than five years ago, there might be one or two left…might be… So these thousands of people have been billed for these items, which leads to…

9. Many patrons rack up HUGE fines.

When I was a normal library patron, I’d occasionally have an overdue book. Usually only a day or two because my schedule wouldn’t allow me to drive the six miles to the branch. I’d slink up to the counter and immediately admit my books were late. Hanging my head, I’d take my wallet out and pay, apologizing the whole time. Now—no way. Patrons have $40, $60, $100+ fines on their accounts. I’ve seen a few over $200. Whole families owe hundreds because each member has racked up so much. Collection agencies are involved. People fight us. Others just shrug and walk away, never intending to pay or set foot in a library again.  And FYI: library fines are like student loans—they NEVER disappear.

10. Libraries must evolve to stay open.

Books won’t keep library door open. Door counts matter. And unfortunately, books just aren’t drawing people in. So we drum up adult programming, offer tech classes, and promote children’s crafts, movies, and science programs. We try and teach patrons about ebooks, but most patrons who come in would need hours of one-on-one help. The patrons who are computer/ebook savvy likely download everything from home, never needing to step foot in a branch. We make copies, send faxes, and act as unofficial computer tutors. We occasionally help someone discover a new author, and my heart grows six sizes each time. But we’ll find ways to draw people in, even if it has nothing to do with books because we need to find ways to keep books available to those who love them. Our future depends on it.

 

 

 

Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

pub day mary kubica

The Book:

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.

 

Mary Kubica

The Author:

Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter. THE GOOD GIRL is her first novel.

Find Mary at:   Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads

 

The Standout Line:

“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

 

The Good Stuff:

Hmmm…I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll be brief. THE GOOD GIRL is an excellent debut novel.

This twisty tale revolves around the kidnapping of Mia Dennett, a twenty-something teacher, former rebellious teen, and the younger daughter of an affluent (and a bit of an a-hole) Chicago judge.

The story is told from revolving POVs. It should have been a straight snatch and deliver for Colin Thatcher, but when he decides not to hand Mia over to his underworld boss, things get…complicated. Watching this kidnapping-gone-wrong from his eyes not only humanizes him, but amps up the suspense when we see that even he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Mia’s mother, Eve, may be married to a class-A jerk, but with every moment she waits for word on her daughter she struggles with her own parenting failures. The case detective, Gabe, feels kind of like the well-meaning cop in the rumpled suit from one of your favorite primetime dramas. He really wants to find Mia—and he want’s to not only prove his superiors wrong, but wipe the condescending look from the Judge’s face while rescuing all the women he’s neglected over the years. *Note: Judge Dennett is pretty much the only unlikable character in the story. While none of the other characters are golden girls or boys, there’s something about them, even when they’re shady, that makes us feel for them.

As the POVs shift, so do the time frames. We flash between the actual kidnapping, the brutally cold cabin where Colin hides Mia, and Mia’s recovery. So yes, we know early on that she makes it home, but we don’t know how. Or why she was grabbed in the first place. And the kicker—neither does she.

The Recommendation:

Pick this one up. THE GOOD GIRL is getting plenty of well deserved buzz and tons of comparisons to GONE GIRL. It’s not GONE GIRL: the suspense level is not quite as high, but the characters are a hell of a lot more likeable. On my thriller/suspense scale, it’s relatively safe (about the same graphic violence/sex as a TV cop show). And although this story has some dark twists to it, I didn’t want to throw the book at the end. That’s a GOOD thing.

If you enjoy suspense, you should find this to be a quick read. Funny aside: I took THE GOOD GIRL to the gym with me the other day as motivation to get on the treadmill. When I hit my goal 5k, I still had just a little bit left in the book—so I made myself stay on the dang treadmill so I could finish. Even though I felt like I was going to die. The end of the story was enough reward.

Sound good? It should. You can read the EXCERPT HERE ► http://bit.ly/1r2VQDx

The Details:
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
No. of Pages: 352
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date:  July 29, 2014

I received this book free from Netgalley/HarlequinMIRA. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Grammar Lovers Rock On — Weird Al Yankovic’s hilarious spoof “Word Crimes” mocks “Blurred Lines”

Finally a song for all the grammar Nazis lovers, writers, and Strunk & White followers. Weird Al’s back with a hilarious spoof aiming to save the world from all those dat doan want 2 lern no grammer.

Weird Al Yankovik’s rewrite transforms Robin Thicke’s raunchy “Blurred Lines” into the clever “Word Crimes.” Now this is a song I can applaud—with absolutely no twerking involved.
(Who makes up these words?)

 

#wordcrimesNO MORE #WORDCRIMES

 

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.”

The Book:

Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met—and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

(From cover)

The Author:

Taylor Jenkins Reid

(from Goodreads)

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. Her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, was named one of the “11 Debuts We Love” by Kirkus Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

Find Taylor at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads

 

 

The First Lines:

“Have you decided if you’re going to change your name?” Ben asks me. He is sitting on the opposite end of the couch, rubbing my feet. He looks so cute. How did I end up with someone so goddam cute?

The Good Stuff:

I picked this up from my library shelving cart about a week ago. Something had niggled at me, maybe I’d heard I should read this from someone…? The back cover blurb seemed a little depressing, but I figured I’d give it a whirl when the mood struck me. I’d just read a stack of novels about the more serious side of marriage—infidelity, secrets, etc.—and a few more in the same tone are lined up in my queue. This had a cute cover in my favorite color. It seemed lighter…

I cracked it open Thursday night as the family spread out on the couch for reading time. Next thing I knew, I was on page 79 and it was a half-hour past my kiddo’s bedtime.  I was that sucked in. You know it’s good stuff.

Something about this story just hooked me at the start. Maybe it’s that Elsie is a book-loving, NPR-listening, only child librarian. Maybe it’s because she met her husband at New Year’s (like me), instantly felt that indescribable connection with her future hubby (like me), and he’d proposed by May (like me). Maybe it’s just because the cover was the exact same shade of aqua as the p.j. shorts I was wearing.

Elsie is instantly likable—once again, maybe because she seemed so familiar. Ben, the  love-of-her-life was charming and adorable and passionate about YA novels written for 13-year-old girls. Come on. They are both cute and slightly geeky and totally relatable. I believed that they could meet and know that the other was “The One” that fast. I felt as if  my dear hubby and I could be them 15-years, a kid,  and a mortgage payment later. But we know from the start Elsie and Ben don’t get that. He’s killed in the first chapter when he gallantly rides his bike to the drug store to fetch some Fruity Pebbles for her. We know they don’t get their happy ending together.

But the story is wonderful just the same.

It alternates between the six months Ben and Elsie had together and the six months after his death. It sounds miserable, but it’s not, I promise. Ben never told his mom he’d eloped. He’d never mentioned he was even dating Elsie, so needless to say, Mom’s not thrilled when she not only loses her only child but discovers he’d gotten married on the sly. Elsie has a rather detached relationship with her cool physician parents, so she’s terrified by this new woman who’s just brimming with emotion. Over the six months, they get to know not only each other, but their beloved Ben and themselves.

The Recommendation:

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED is a delightful debut novel that reminds me a little of Rainbow Rowell (one of my writer crushes). It has a similar easygoing familiarity, but the voice is more mature (as Elsie is a few years older than Rowell’s main characters in Eleanor & Park and Fangirl). It’s surprisingly brighter than you’d imagine for a book about a young widow, but don’t expect to make it all the way through without at least a few tears. My hubby politely ignored mine at the end—or perhaps he was just too sucked into the World Cup third place match to notice.

See, now I’m late getting started on dinner prep because I just had to get this out while the experience and the salty tear streaks are still fresh. Great book. Now you’ll have to excuse me—I’m off to add Taylor Jenkins Reid’s sophomore novel After I Do to my library queue.

The Details:

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Print Length: 353 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Release date: July 9, 2013

 

Murder, Mean Girls, and an Innocent Woman Behind Bars: THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens

The Book:

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent
complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

(from Goodreads)

The Author:

chevy stevensChevy Stevens is the New York Times Bestselling author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, and ALWAYS WATCHING. Chevy grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still lives on the island with her husband and daughter. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her family in the local mountains. Her debut novel, STILL MISSING, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. (via Goodreads)

Find Chevy at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads

 

The First Lines:

I followed the escorting officer over to Admissions and Discharge, carrying my belongings in a cardboard box—a couple pairs of jeans, some worn-out T-shirts, the few things I’d gathered over the years, some treasured books, my CD player.

The Good Stuff:

THAT NIGHT felt like Orange is the New Black (without the constant girl-on-girl action) meets Mean Girls (less the biting humor and nice clothes) with a touch of Twilight (plain girl obsessed with bad boy no one understands in small Pacific coast town) thrown in for good measure.

The story focuses around that night—the night Toni’s younger sister Nicole is murdered, the night Toni’s life speeds from a lazy downward spiral to being sucked down into a whirlpool (cue Urslua’s evil cackle) she’s powerless to escape.

The story is told from Toni’s perspective, flashing between the year before the murder, her years in prison, and her eventual release after serving her sentence. Though Toni’s age ranges between seventeen and thirty-four, the whole story seemed very YA to me in tone, with no distinction between the teen and the ex-con’s voices. *However, I mentioned this to a friend who happens to be a prison psychologist, and he said this would be correct—prisoners often freeze developmentally at their age of incarceration.* Young Toni skips school, smokes pot, and sneaks out regularly to have sex with her boyfriend, Ryan. They’re really in love. She’s also bullied by her ex-friend Shauna and her clique, who fall upon Toni like a pack of rabid dogs. Toni acts like prey. Fights ensue (actual fistfights—these girls are scrappers). But Toni’s lied so much about her other destructive behaviors that no one (including her frustrating mother) believes the bullies are anything but sweet girls. Toni’s lofty goal in life is to survive until graduation so she can move in with Ryan and get a job as a waitress.

But then her sister is murdered out by the lake where all the kids are partying, and Toni and Ryan find the body. They’re arrested. Shauna and her crew lie, saying the sisters fought that night, and for some reason Toni’s mother believes her. As does the judge, who convicts them despite an unbelievable lack of evidence, and the star-crossed lovers are shipped off to the pen. In prison, Toni is bullied even more, though she does learn to fight back. More violence. No sex. The bullying-violence cycle repeats itself in the halfway house she’s sent to. Once she makes it to the outside, Toni chooses to move back to the same small town where everyone believes she murdered her own sister, her father has given up on her, and her horrible mother totally hates her guts. Oh, and Shauna and her girls still live there, too, and they insist on getting back in Toni’s way.

We know from the beginning of the novel that Toni didn’t commit the crime. We have strong suspicions who did. I kept waiting for some crazy plot twist a-la-Gone-Girl, an untrustworthy narrator or something, but no great surprises were revealed.

The Recommendation:

Chicks in prison stories seem to be hot now, so if your into OITNB, you might give this a whirl. If you totally dig the teen angst, the love of a bad boy, the family who just doesn’t understand, and the whole YA style, you’ll probably love this. If you’re not a huge thriller reader, the wondering if Toni will find out who really did it will be enough to pull you through the novel quickly. I still consider thrillers to have more tense action, twisty plots, and devious villains who constantly raise the stakes (check out this list of top 100 Thrillers via NPR—I highly recommend most of these choices). This was a quick read, more light suspense than thriller for me though.

Chevy Steven’s first novel, Still Missing, has great reviews. I might give that one a try.

The Details:she reads new

That Night by Chevy Stevens
Print Length: 381 pages
Release date: June  17, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

THAT NIGHT is the She Reads Book Club July pick. Head over to SHEREADS.org to read more about Chevy Stevens, discover fabulous new reads, and enter for a chance to WIN one of five copies of THAT NIGHT.

 

Summer at the Springs—Kelly Park, Orlando

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Florida is not all about its beautiful beaches. Our enticing waters come in many forms, and hot days locals flock to our crystal-clear springs—even though we may have a perfectly good swimming pool in our own backyard.

Locals know the best way to celebrate the first day of summer is at one of the  more than 900 natural springs scattered across the state. The clear waters remain at a chilly (for us) 72 degrees year round—refreshing enough to make you gasp when the air hovers in the 90s, but cool enough to keep the gators away—most of the time.

gators florida, alligator kelly park, alligator springs

The sign is posted at every Florida body of water, but last year was the first time we actually saw a gator at the springs. This little guy was about 3 feet long, and hung out along the banks all summer. No, he never bothered anyone. Yes, my heart did leap the first time my son snorkeled past him.

Our favorite local spring is Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park and State Reserve. The park is so popular with Central Florida residents in the know that there is always a line of cars trying to get in, and it’s often filled to capacity by 9 a.m. (And holidays. . .forget about it.) Deer sometimes drop by to entertain the throngs of families patiently waiting. Before mid-morning, picnickers fire up every one of the dozens of grills and fill the pavilions, saturating the humid air with the aroma of grilled meat.

But when you arrive early, you can sometimes spot some of the river’s locals.

otter in spring, ottter eating, otter florida, rock springs, kelly park

Not sure if this otter is munching on a fish or a turtle, but I did my best not to disturb his breakfast.

Rock Spring bubbles up from a cleft in the rocks beside a cave that looks like something the Spanish explorers would have believed was the Fountain of Youth. Swimmers jump in at the spring head or awkwardly plop into a tube while it bobs in the swift current. From there the water slows, and its a lazy 25 minute drift down the river, winding under mossy oaks and feather-leaved cypress trees.

SPRINGS HEAD, Kelly park, florida springs

Some try to walk along the rocky bottom, stopping to sift through pebbles for fossilized sharks teeth. Others snorkel down the river, spotting fish and an occasional turtle.  I go for the tube. That water is COLD.

walking the springs

While the river run and the swimming holes are the draw for most, my kid spends the majority of his day along the sandy shore. There’s always a swarm of kids there, and it’s easy to pick up some friends for water blaster fights or sand castle building.

Which means the hubby and I get to spend the day lounging in the shade with a book. HEAVEN.

springs, reading, reading outdoors, reading lake

And I have to admit, one guilty pleasure there is people-watching. Locals didn’t affectionately dub the place the “Redneck Rivera” for nothing. Folks from 8-months to eighty don their bikinis and sunbathe beside the ole swimmin’ hole. Tattoos are the norm, and I don’t mean the funky hipster variety. (Imagine Stewie from The Family Guy tattooed on a middle-aged could be an ex-biker chick’s inner thigh.)  It’s a great place to jot down character studies—I consider it research. But people are friendly, and the real wildlife is usually of the furry, finned, and feathered variety.

florida fish, fish in springs

For five bucks a carload, Kelly Park is an oasis just outside the suburban sprawl, the perfect way to escape from the traffic and tourists. Whether you’re a local wanting to get back to nature or a visitor looking for “Real Florida” this place is the way to go.

If you go:

  • Bring cash for the snack bar—typical concession fare like hot dogs, snow cones, and cold sodas.
  • If you want to claim a grill, get there super early. Pavilions are reserved in advance.
  • Water shoes are strongly suggested. Masks and goggles if you have some.
  • Bring an inner tube or raft (anything less than five feet is okay) or rent a tough tire tube at one of the shops by the park entrance.
  • The park also has Hiking/Nature Trails and a campground that’s supposed to be gorgeous.

The springs at Kelly Park, Orange county parks, florida springsHours of Operation Summer 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Winter 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Park Fees
Per vehicle: $3 (1-2 people);
$5 (3-8 people);

Rock Springs Run State Reserve

c/o Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle
Apopka, Florida 32712
Phone: (407) 884 2008

 

Happy Summer, y’all!

 

 

Mama's Losin' It   Hooking up with Mama Kat to celebrate the first day of summer ;)

 

Review: THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry

The stories we tell by patti callahan henryWishing Patti Callahan Henry a very Happy Pub Day!

The Book:

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family.

But things may not be as good as they seem.

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

The Author:

patti callahan henry authorNew York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published ten novels–including one of my favorite reads of last year, AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year.

She grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she became a pediatric nurse. Not long after having her third child, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Patti wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until her daughter mentioned  that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up that Patti realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.

A full-time writer, wife, and mother of three—Patti Callahan Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Find Patti at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads

 

The First Line:

My eyes changed color and I didn’t even notice.

The Good Stuff:

By now we’ve all realized that in real life, there is no such thing as the “perfect” family. Chances are, even the most glamorous and stable of folks have something going on behind the facade. In THE STORIES WE TELL, Eve and Cooper live with this disparity: on the surface, everything looks fabulous. In reality, his online magazine is struggling, he’s jealous of the time Eve spends on her successful letterpress business, Fine Line, Ink., their teenage daughter teeters on the brink of full-fledged rebellion, and Eve’s free-spirited sister, Willa, is really a recovering alcoholic living in the guest house until she can piece her life back together.

The story starts strong: on a dark and stormy night, Eve is summoned to the hospital after her husband and sister are injured a car accident. Cooper escapes with only a glaring gash across his face, but Willa has suffered a traumatic brain injury. She can’t remember what happened that night, and Cooper is blaming her and her drunken antics—a story that doesn’t mesh with what either sisters believes.

But why wouldn’t Cooper be telling the truth?

The story also dips into the sketchy subject of financial infidelity. It’s a topic friends and spouses just don’t discuss, yet in these unstable times, it’s something that occurs more than we’d care to imagine. Does sneaking around the bank account destroy trust as wholly as cheating in the bedroom?

Eve and Cooper’s teenage daughter, Gwen, tugged at my gut. Each episode of acting out left me wondering how I’d handle a similar situation—and nervous considering I’ll be parenting a teen in just a few short years. I wanted to yell at Gwen and hug her all at the same time.

The details about Eve’s passion for printing and need to create added a colorful layer to the story. Though the ease of computers, many of us may dabble in graphics and design, but few of us have worked with a finicky old letterpress, hunted through junk shops for antique font sets, or spend hours pondering the differences in the feel of fine papers. I love the premise of the Ten Good Ideas card line—ten commandments for really living, like “be kind” and “search for the true” instead of ten rules threatening you should not do. These rules for living not only exemplified Eve and Willa’s values, but grew from their desire to be good to each other and in life—and made for a highly successful card line.

Patti weastories we tell, jack johnsonves music throughout the story, and I have to admit—she (or should I say “Eve”) has great taste. Songs provide an escape for Eve, act as a precursor of moods, and evoke just the right feelings in the reader—if they’re familiar with the lyrics. But who doesn’t cinch up a bit inside or feel transported to a hazy memory when they hear “Landslide” — be it the Dixie Chicks or Fleetwood Mac version?

It just so happened that my ARC of THE STORIES WE TELL tagged along with me to the Jack Johnson concert in Saint Augustine last month. (I don’t go anywhere without a book.) Imagine my surprise when a day or so later I read about Eve listening one of my favorite J.J. songs, “Flake.”   I dropped the book. The book had just seen that song live! Talk about good karma.

Recommendation:

Buy it. Lovely writing, relatable characters, and a plot that will keep you reading until you discover the truth. Toss it in you beach bag (or summer concert bag!). Though the novel delves into some serious issues, it’s actually a relatively light read. At 272 pages, it’s perfect for a weekend away—one of the reasons it’s topping summer reading lists. It would be an excellent summer selection for book clubs as well—plenty of meaty, relevant topics to discuss, but short enough to fit in during the often hectic time of year.

 

The Details:
The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Print Length:
272 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press