Category Archives: Reading

Books on Deck – Need Help

So, these are my current books on deck. Since I finished Outliers yesterday, I’ve been hung out to dry on reading material. I’m finishing a bio of Chanel, but that’s strictly bedtime reading.


The big question is – which one of these puppies should I crack open first?

And on a completely unrelated note, Felicity Blunt appeared in my ‘People You May Know’ list on LinkedIn. Felicity. Blunt. Sister of Emily, wife of Stanley Tucci.

And literary agent in the UK.

Heck, I have no idea why she’s someone I ‘might know’ but I’ll take it as a sign. A good one! And keep writing.

Now, which of these books would you recommend?? My boss has been suggesting Stephen King titles, but I need at least two going – one for work and one for home.

Thoughts? Please?


Filed under Books, Reading

Change of Pace: Book Reviews

Wow! This is a bit of a different take on my usual posts, but I’m so proud of myself that I’ve just got to toot my own horn here.

Guess what? I’ve been reading! Not only that, but I’ve finished not one, but two books! Granted, they’ve both been on deck since just after Christmas – but that doesn’t count. What DOES count is that I made time to read, finished two books and enjoyed them both. So I thought I’d do a mini-book review here. Just because.

First up – my at-home reading. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. I mentioned this one a few weeks back, when personality types and behaviors started sounding a bit familiar. Once I Googled the book and read that the town of ‘Leechfield’ is actually the town where a good chunk of my extended family on the Spouse’s side are from, this made sense. I actually need to go back and reread now. Some of the families mentioned in the book could be clones of some people I know. Hmmm…

Anyhoo, Karr uses this book to give us a glimpse of her childhood – which really puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional  – growing up in southeast Texas during the sixties. She manages to put a comic spin on even deep-seated family issues, while painting her family as living, breathing individuals. These are not caricatures. Even those Yankees who may read the book need to take my word for it – these are picture-perfect depictions of people I have met. No stereotypes here. Well, they sure have aspects of the stereotypical redneck Texan – but each person’s issues will strike a chord of familiarity within you, no matter what your upbringing.

I will say that the book became more and more uncomfortable for me to read towards the end. Not through any fault of the author, but her story and its direction brought out some experiences, memories and fears of my own. And that, to me, is what makes this book so memorable and transcending. Regardless of your background, issues or life story, Mary Karr puts us smack dab in the middle of her story – and makes us truly feel what her characters are going through. Empathy. The mark of a Really Good Author.  Just my two cents on that one. Read it. Read it if only for the description of flight from Hurricane Carla across the Bridge. I’ve been on that bridge. In calm sunny weather. Scares the crap out of me every single time. And Mary Karr actually makes it funny.

Next up – my lunchtime-at-work reading. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This is incredibly interesting stuff. Gladwell actually looks at data, events and statistics surrounding ‘good ol’ American success stories.’ As well as some stereotypes regarding cultural background and achievement. With incredibly interesting results. Turns out that the American Work Ethic of ‘hard work equals success’ isn’t absolute. In fact, if you look at many rags-to-riches stories, you see that hard work is only one part of the equation. Place, time, culture, events – they all add up to very specific opportunities for very specific people in very specific situations.

At first I was depressed. See, I definitely was NOT born in any certain situation with these kinds of opportunities – at least as far as I know. My attitude halfway through the book was basically ‘what’s the point of effort then?’ That’s my Type A pessimism kicking in. It was a Debbie-Downer-ish moment. Well, more than a moment. A few tens of moments. But I kept reading.

And at the end, Gladwell’s message isn’t that only a few individuals have certain exceptional opportunities – it’s that we need to pay more attention to the details of the journey and their impact on the end result. I actually feel inspired. Part of me wants to do a study on myself and my background to see if there are any trends for people like me.

Or maybe I’m just looking for the next bend in the road. I can’t see around it yet, but I’ll take this book as a message that it’s coming. And in that I have faith.

Like I said, I’m not a book reviewer. But what kind of dream job would that be? To get paid to read books and write about them? Count me in!! But that’s what I’ve been up to lately, y’all. Had to give myself a shout-out.

Now, if I could just decide which book on deck to pick up next…

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Filed under Book Clubs, Books, Reading, writing

Dream Life Needs Advice! Mayday!

blogI’ve got a small problem. Just a teeny tiny itty bitty problem. The smallest of problems, really. And to most, it wouldn’t even seem like a problem. But it’s bugging me. The problem?

I have a Dream. Complete with a Dream Life.

Ok, that sentence doesn’t read exactly the way I want it to. What I meant to say was that I have this goal for a Dream Life in my head. Which isn’t bad – normally that would be good. The problem is that I have absolutely no idea how to get from point A to point B. At least, no idea that is grounded in reality instead of absolute fantasy. That causes my Type A personality piles and piles of stress, because my Type-A-ness likes to have a goal, set a timeline, take steps toward the goal and make it happen.

I’m totally out of my element here. What’s my Dream Life? In my Dream Life I’m a freelance writer. Correction – a Writer. With a capital W. Because the capital W makes a big difference. It does. Really. As a Writer I’d have much more control over my schedule, be able to express my creativity in my work, interact with fascinating people in interesting situations and – of course – do what I love. Reading and writing.

Of course, my Dream Life also has a Dream Office. Like the one in the picture, only looking over a tree-lined boulevard of New York brownstones – or perhaps an artsy Parisian neighborhood, complete with cafes.  What would the Dream Job be without a Dream Apartment in a Dream City, after all? If I’m gonna plan this out I may as well do it right, right??

But here’s the catch – I am completely spinning my wheels on this writing thing. I’m stuck. One problem is that I’m enough of a people-pleaser that I find myself trying to write what I think others will want to read. Bad Writer! Hand-slap! Throat-punch! I should be writing what I think, feel and experience – and to Heck with anyone who doesn’t like it! (Says my rational side that only pops its head out and about bimonthly or so…)

I started blogging. Check. Daily. Check. Switched platforms when I realized that a) most of the hits I was getting were spam, not legit readers and b) heard through the grapevine that people were having trouble commenting on my posts. That’s not cool.

But this new platform is intimidating. I feel like a really really tiny minnow in the Pacific Ocean. So many amazing writers – and who am I to think I have anything at all to contribute? It’s danged intimidating, y’all! And darn it – work keeps getting in the way of my writing time! I get most of my inspiration during my commute – and since I’m challenged behind the wheel on a good day, I’ve no chance at all of recording/writing any of these ideas down. I mean, honestly. I’m the one with the Find My Car app on my phone, remember? I’d end up in New Orleans if I tried to multitask behind the wheel, especially the way I get consumed when I write. And I’ve had a really good idea for an editorial in my head for months now – but spend my days editing others’ work instead of creating my own.

So here’s the thing. I need advice. Lots and lots of it. Preferably of good quality. What steps should an aspiring Writer take to get on the right path? Where do I start? Any and all advice is welcome – I’m begging here! Take a look around this blog, read some of my stuff, and tell me what you honestly think! No Ponzi schemes please – I’ve already weeded through a few of those. I’m talking legit Writing Business Advice here! Thanks for taking the time to comment!


Filed under Career path, Personal growth, Reading, Uncategorized, writing

I Finished a Book!!

I did, really. Took me a few hours last night in total isolation from my family, but it was worth it!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Even the title is beautiful and mysterious. Wonder what I’d call a book written around here? Oh, I’ve got it – Mosquitoes Bite in Houston. Haha.

Anyhoo, this book is absolutely fantastic. A coming-of-age story set in 1900’s New York. Beautifully written. I found myself reading so fast to try and find out what would happen to this family next, and then going back to re-read because the descriptions and thoughts are so profound. Take this one:

All of us are what we have to be and everyone lives the kind of life it’s in him to live.

Pretty much sums up last weekend for me and the realizations that came with it. In fact, I used it in a blog entry earlier this week.

Or this one:

But it was just as well. There had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background its flashing glory.

That hit yesterday on the head for me. Hello?? The entire homework situation and my reaction to it? I guess that’s true for everyone in any situation. See what I mean though? This book is just chock-full of wise nuggets like these.

At first I figured that this was an autobiographical memoir. I mean, the author gives such detailed description of 1900’s Brooklyn and life in its tenements that I assumed she had lived it. So, of course, I had to Google Betty Smith, the author. Found some rather interesting stuff about her. Apparently when the book was published in 1943, she claimed it as semi-autobiographical and based on her own New York upbringing. This was even published in her memoir. But now, with technology and the access to public records we have, intellectuals have done some research on her.

Turns out that she based most of her ‘upbringing’ on the lives of the fictional family in the book!!

Wow, how’s that for deception? And pretty shrewd marketing for a female author back in the ’40s. I’m impressed. Obviously it worked, because this book is truly worth the best-seller status it has achieved. Give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Hey, if I can finish it in less than a week, it must be good. Good enough to make me sacrifice necessary chores and precious free time!

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Filed under A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith, Books, Reading

Weekend Update

I’m baaack! Relaxed, refreshed and recharged. Oh, and actually appreciating my family. Or rather, I’m not so freaking exhausted that appreciation is out of my vocabulary. Here’s the scoop…

Friday. Finished work. Headed into town for my retreat, and hit… Traffic. Bad traffic. I guess everyone in H-town had Big Friday Night Plans, because they were ALL on the highway. Determined not to let it ruin my mood, I decided to play CD surprise. Never heard of it? Not surprised, considering I made it up Friday night while stuck in traffic on the highway. How do you play? Easy. Reach over (in the dark, while keeping your eyes on the road), grab a CD out of your CD wallet, and insert. Anticipate what it’s going to be. Listen. Hey, I figured it would pass the time, and since I really DO have interesting CD’s in the car I figured it was a win.

Fail. First CD – Kidz Bop. Veto. Second CD – some guy playing hammer dulcimer EZ listening hits. A holdover from my elementary teaching days. Veto. Third – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Music Memory from days gone by. Veto. Fourth – Diana Krall live in Paris. Ok, that one was doable.

Finally navigated the traffic and checked into my sweet digs. I found a great in-town deal at an extended stay place, which meant that I had a full kitchen, sectional couch, desk and separate sleeping nook. Oh, and a walk-in closet. That’s crucial for a two night stay, right? Got situated, surfed the web and started A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. How is it I never had to read this for school? It’s amazing. But if I’d had to read it for school I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Most of the time when I’m told I have to read a certain book I don’t like it. It’s the passive/agressive rebellious side of me. Fine. I’ll read it. But I won’t LIKE it. Anyway, I finally made myself put the book down and sleep.

Saturday morning? It’s a good thing I’ve got priorities. I mean, if I hadn’t checked Facebook before eating breakfast and showering, I’d have missed the message about my folk dance session. “A slight mistake has been made. The original start time of 9:30 posted here was incorrect. Today’s workshop will begin at 8:30.” Good thing it was only 7:30 when I decided to Facebook.

Day of folk dancing. Skipped the fitness room workout due to the time change, but hey – six solid hours of folk dancing HAS to count as exercise, right? I mean, I did actually break a sweat once or twice and it was cold in the room. And I realized how much I miss that part of my musician life. The sense of community and collaborative music making with a group of talented people. And I’ve always loved dancing. If I’d actually been born with the right body type I probably would have kept up with it past sixth grade. But hey – at this point it’s a fun hobby. Did you get that? A hobby! Me!

Lunch on my own at a group of swanky little shops across the street. Leftover time and an Anthropologie gift card. Darn. What was I to do? Yep – found ONE – sweater that I loved. There was ONE left. In my size. And my favorite color. On sale. Score!!

More folk dancing, then a trip to the HUGE Half Price Books I’d spotted near the hotel. Huge. And, for some reason, much cheaper than the HPB near my house. Hmmm. Cheaper in town than the ‘burbs? Shocker. I love wandering in used book stores. The musty smell of old bindings and slightly mildewed dusty paper is like a drug. So addictive. They should bottle that and sell it for Plug Ins. Seriously. I’d be all over that. And I managed to score a biography of Alan Lomax – one of the songcatching family that traveled Appalachia and recorded TONS of American folk songs back in the day. You can access the recordings for free here. It was a message. This is a hobby that needs pursuit. Message received.

Back to the hotel. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Couldn’t. Put. It. Down. Hours of uninterrupted reading? Check. Intersperse journal writing? Check. Inspiration? Check and check. Right before a massive migraine sidetracked my entire plan.

Skip ahead a few hours – too much Excedrin and caffeine left me wide awake, so I pulled up the Netflix queue and started Sweet Land. An indie flick that the Spouse wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes into, it’s full of lovely shots of Minnesota wheat fields, prairie and 1920’s postwar issues. It’s easy to forget that those of us with German ancestry faced discrimination during and after WWI. Anyhoo, yes, this could be looked at as a chick flick since there was a love story. But the messages of humanity sticking together and hardworking people with their innate connection to the land can’t be ignored either.

More journaling and reading this morning, then back home. Fam was happy. Apparently I was missed. Rested, recharged and appreciated? Priceless.

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Filed under Folk Music, inspiration, Journaling, Moms, Reading, working moms, writing

Small World

Unrelated to this morning’s earlier post, which is why I’m sticking it in here as an aside. I’VE BEEN READING!! A couple of interesting things. Most of my free time (ha!) during the work day has been taken up by Outliers. It’s a bit depressing so far, seeing as how it basically debunks the good ol’ American work ethic of ‘hard work equals success.’ But interesting to look at actual statistics too, and the chapters on geniuses actually make sense. As a teacher I can totally see where the author is coming from.

And on a funny note – not the subject matter of the book, but the connection. Last night I started a memoir called The Liars Club. As I read about the people of Leechfield, TX I noticed some familiar twangs in their mannerisms and way of speaking. So I did what the nerd in me always does – I Googled the town. Imagine my surprise when I learned that ‘Leechfield’ is the fictional name given by the author to her hometown. Which happens to be the exact same hometown of some of my extended family-in-law. Huh. Wonder if I’ll recognize anybody?? Heheh…

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Filed under Books, Coincidence, Reading, Southeast Texas

Seriously, I Need Help!

I realized this morning that I have a serious problem. A Very Serious Problem. I’ve been stewing about it for most of the day (well, stewing is relative. In the sense that it’s been nagging at the back of my brain while my body has been busy with a zillion other work-related tasks, that is.) Here it is: I have no real time to read. And for once, I have too many books.

Too many books, too little time. In between my 6 AM alarm, getting self, Spouse and two minions out the door, hour-long commute to the office, full workday and the hour (sometimes hour-plus) drive home – there just isn’t time left. Add to that the fact that, once I get home there are family activities, homework to check, minions to spend time with/prepare for the next day and Spouse to chat with – and there’s JUST NO EXTRA TIME!!
And, truth be told, reading is my real hobby.  I would rather go a day without breathing than reading. I mean it. Writing is a close second, but I really don’t think I would survive long without immersing myself in a good book (or several.) The current dilemma is that, between Barnes and Noble and Amazon gift cards, my reading stash has grown and I can’t decide what to read first. I fall into my normal pattern of staring blankly at the pile of books (and my Kindle) like a deer in headlights. Waste all of my time trying to decide what to read rather than reading. Bummer. It really stinks, especially given my lack of time.
Diehards would tell me to suck it up and get up an hour or two earlier to ‘enjoy some quiet reading time just for me.’ Who are they kidding? Those peeps have obviously never tried the kind of 12+ hour days full of required stuff that are the norm on my docket. Argh!!
So what exactly is in the oh-so-tempting pile? I’ll tell you. And it’s even worse now because I got a box from Amazon yesterday. Books, of course. Here’s my stash:
1.       A Storm of Swords – this one’s kind of on the back burner. I got burned out by all of the head-rolling.

2.       This Side of Paradise – always have loved Fitzgerald and Zelda.

3.       Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen, of course.

4.       Quiet!I actually just finished this one. An interesting study of introverts and society.

5.       Outliers – Just started this one but it seems good already. Gives reasons for refuting the ‘hard work is the only thing that determines success’ idea.

6.       Case Histories – new novel

7.       The Liars Club – another new novel.

Can you see my dilemma?? What do you think? Which should come first?? And how the heck should I manage my time?!

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Filed under Hobbies, Reading, time management, working moms

Shout Out to Phil!

One of the things I miss about teaching is getting the chance to meet authors, hear them speak to kiddoes and pick up some writing tips of my own. I saw earlier on Facebook that one of my faves is speaking today at my former school. Not just speaking to, but actually getting down and dirty with the kids and their writing. I’m jealous.

I’ve just gotta say it – Phil Bildner is the coolest! See, I taught writing for many years. And I know how hard it is to get at those awesome ideas, pull them out of a kid’s head, and get them down on paper. There’s always one little guy or girl that has fab ideas, writes three sentences and says, “I’m done!” But they’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Same thing with reading. Some kids just don’t like to read. Sure, they do it – reluctantly – if they have to, but they don’t like it. That hurts my soul as a reader. I’ve always wanted every kid to get my love of reading. But many just don’t.

Phil taps into that. His energy, enthusiasm, and just over-the-top cool factor instantly connect with kids – and grownups too. I’ve never seen a room full of over 100 eight year olds sit motionless for an hour, hanging on an adult’s every word.

That is, until I met Phil Bildner.

If you’ve not heard of him or read his stuff, PLEASE check him out here. As a lifelong sports nut, former teacher and history buff – his books hook kids (especially boys) into reading before they even know what happened. And it’s awesome to see. My boys both got autographed books from Phil last year – with a cool personal message in addition to just a signature, mind you – and I’m amazed how they treasure those books. Even my little guy – who likes to think that he’s just too cool for school – will always choose his copy of Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy to take on trips because he’s afraid that something will happen to it if he leaves it at home. Seriously. And I’ve found that book tucked carefully under his pillow after he falls asleep at night.

Why? Because, as my son says, Phil Bildner is cool. And to a seven (almost eight) year old, that makes all the difference.

Check him out! I guarantee you (and your kids, if you have them) will be inspired by the energy and love for the craft you find in Phil’s work. You won’t regret it!

And yes, if you’ve seen his videos on his web site – he really is that cool in person!

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Filed under Children's Authors, inspiration, Phil Bildner, Reading, Teaching, writing

What am I Reading??

I’ve been busy lately. Busy reading. I decided to start actually posting what I’m reading so that I can look back and keep track of it all. Especially on those days when I feel like I ‘never have time to read.’ So here goes.

I’m working on two new books for this month’s discussion group at Murder By the Book:

And I found this interesting gem on the ‘Required School Reading’ table last weekend at Barnes and Noble. Kind of reminds me of The Giver.


Last but not least, I’m still plodding through this one. I say plodding just because the story is getting so convoluted with so many separate plot lines – not because it isn’t a good read. It’s quite good. Lots of heads have rolled, I have a feeling that many more will still roll, and it’s only book two of the saga.


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Filed under Book Clubs, Dystopia, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Reading

Plugging the Club

Two posts in two days. Amazing! Anyway, I forgot to mention the one othe thing I did over the weekend. I read a book! An entire book, cover to cover. Yes I did.

See, I found out a couple of weeks ago that one of my fave places in town, Murder By the Book, has book clubs. And they’re FREE! Each month they have a different theme, so I dove in. This month it’s LA detective fiction. I got both books for my Kindle, where they promptly sat for a couple of weeks. Until last weekend, when I picked one up and started reading.

Couldn’t. Put. It. Down. Well, I did here and there, but before I knew it I had finished the first book:

Surprisingly, it was pretty good. Not earth-shattering great literature, but a quick and entertaining read. Former Buddhist monk-turned-PI investigating a cult, insurance scams and mysterious deaths. Fun stuff.

I’ve started the second book, and it’s already much grittier and bloodier than the first. Former mob gangster-turned-good-guy gets murdered, and it’s up to an old friend to investigate. I’m hooked. And I’ve got less than a week to finish it before the club meeting, so I’d better get cracking. Looks like I’ve finally got a hobby!

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Filed under Book Clubs, Hobbies, Murder By the Book Houston, Mysteries, Reading