Better.


“A new year is like a blank book. The pen is in your hands. It is your chance to write a beautiful story for yourself.”
~Unknown

Show of hands: who thought I’d dropped off the face of the earth, or, at least, the blogging community? I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you did. I’ll be honest, the longer I went without posting, the tougher it seemed to get back into the swing of things. This space has always been an outlet, though, a place to celebrate the good and work through the bad, and so I don’t think I could ever leave it, not fully. I’d miss it, and all of you, too much. And so here I am again, after more than four months.

Most of you know that 2015 was a difficult, trying year for my family and me. Things were rough in many different ways, ways that left me feeling drained and defeated. In fact, if I had to sum up the year in one word, it would be: exhausting. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it was just so very long and tiring. Much as I wanted to write in here, it often felt like there was nothing to say. I try, really try quite hard, to be an optimistic person, but sometimes life gets in the way, you know? Eventually it got to a point where I saw those roadblocks for what they were, and to rehash them in writing … truly, the thought seemed to zap the energy straight out of me.

Now that it’s 2016? I’m determined to embrace the fresh start, to do everything in my power to ensure that the pages of this year’s calendar are filled with much brighter colors than last year’s. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t. After all, flipping from December to January doesn’t actually change any of the words that wrote themselves in the past. My hope, though, is that I can add to those words now, to weave some hope and happiness back in. To that end, I’ve been thinking about what resolutions to make for this year, and I came up with … none. Deliberately, consciously, purposely, I’m making no concrete resolutions. I’ve found that, while they’re a wonderful motivator, they can also be the opposite when they don’t hold up, when you work tirelessly to make them a reality and it still doesn’t happen. Instead, I’m going to throw all my energy into doing what I can do make 2016 better than 2015. I am going to look for at least one bright spot in every day, even when the light seems dim. I’m going to keep on doing what it takes to get my book babies out there, even when the journey feels like climbing an endless mountain. I’m going to keep spending countless hours of time with my sweet and spunky Jasper Jellybean, even when it means sacrificing some of my to-do list (and some of my sleep). I’m going to work on accepting what I can’t control, even when those things seem so incredibly unfair. Mostly, though, I’m going to give this year everything I’ve got and pray that when it reciprocates, it will be with good things this time.

No resolutions, but those are my goals. My wishes. My must-haves.

How about you guys? What’s your must-have this year? And, again, thanks for sticking with me. Friends like you made a bad year better, and I’m so lucky to have your support. Wishing you all a happy, healthy 2016 – may it be filled with all the joy of a bunny’s binky and every one of your dreams come true!

Best Books, 2014.


“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.”
~Neil Gaiman

It’s time for one of my favorite annual posts — my “best of books” for 2014! I always look forward to compiling this list each December. There’s something special about having the chance to reflect back on all the stories that have touched my heart over the past twelve months, the characters and anecdotes that have resonated far beyond their pages. It’s proof, I think, that each book holds a world of possibility and a twinkle of magic somewhere inside its spine — and inside its words. And so, without further ado, here are some of my favorites from this year:

The Baker's DaughterMemoirs of an Imaginary FriendYou Knew Me When

Catching AirYes PleaseThe Longest Ride

The Baker’s Daughter – Sarah McCoy: I’ve written about this book before, so you already know how much I adore it. Even though I read this story back in April, I’m being completely honest when I tell you that it still runs through my mind often. Reba and Elsie, they are the kind of characters you root for. The kind of characters you care about. The kind of characters that inspire you. I have a soft spot for books that feature a dual narrative, and it was such a joy to hear not only about Reba’s and Elsie’s individual journeys – in present-day Texas and WWII era Germany, respectively – but also about the one they forged together after Reba visits Elsie’s German Bakery to interview its owner. The lessons she learns are profound, and the feelings this beautiful story evokes are the kind that positively fill you up as a reader.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Dicks: I was absolutely captivated by this book. It is so special, so clever, so tender and enlightening and poignant. It’s different from the type of story I normally read, but oh my gosh, you guys, I couldn’t put it down for anything. I sped through it faster than any other book this year, because I simply had to know what happened next for sweet, creative, brave little Max and his imaginary friend Budo. Watching them both come into their own, seeing them grow and spread their wings … it’s a gift for the reader. This might be a story about a child, but when you look at the world through his eyes – and through the eyes of the imaginary friend who pushes him to have more courage than he even thought possible – I promise, you’ll learn a lot about your own world, too.

You Knew Me When – Emily Liebert: This book has been on my to-read list for a long time, and I’m so glad I finally dove into its pages this year. I truly loved every word. This is a story about life and love, but mostly it’s a story about friendship. Getting to watch as Katherine and Laney’s friendship grows – they meet when Katherine moves two doors down from Laney as an eleven-year-old – and then dissolves when a massive roadblock wedges its way into the journey of their sisterhood, it is a treat. Emily does such a lovely job of writing about both the past and present, and tying them together in meaningful ways. I was rooting for Katherine and Laney from start to finish, and I adored the presence of the neighbor who lived between them. Luella was an important part of the girls’ past, and I love that, even though she’s passed away, she gave them one final gift — a hope for their future.

Catching Air – Sarah Pekkanen: For those of you who have been reading my blog over the years, it’ll come as no surprise that Sarah’s on this list. She is every year, because her books are the kind that take us directly into her characters’ homes … hopes … hearts. This story is one of my favorites of all of hers. It’s such fun to join Kira, Peter, Alyssa, and Rand as they open a B&B in Vermont — to see them not only navigate the ups-and-downs of this new business venture, but also the ups-and-downs of their personal lives, including the possibility of adding not one, but two little heartbeats into the fold. And then there’s Dawn, the woman who seeks shelter in their bed and breakfast. These characters are so real, so true. One of my favorite things about Sarah’s books is that they invite you in and let you experience their magic. That’s exactly what happened here, and it left me feeling inspired to catch some air of my own.

Yes Please – Amy Poehler: This is, hands down, one of my favorite memoirs I’ve ever read. Amy’s book is full of humor and wit, but also grace and intelligence. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had six different passages bookmarked within the first two chapters. Hearing about Amy’s life, about her plethora of amazing experiences, was so cool, but what I loved most was her insight into the writing world and her advice on saying “yes, please” to a life full of inspiration. She is strong, she is determined, she is confident … but she’s also not afraid to admit when she’s wrong, to acknowledge that there will always be so much more to learn. I listened to her words of wisdom in the audiobook version, and if you guys like those at all, I highly recommend it. Amy narrates the book herself, and there are some special extras thrown in, too. It adds another dimension, because not only is Amy a wonderful writer, but also a fabulous storyteller.

The Longest Ride – Nicholas Sparks: Would you believe this was my first Nicholas Sparks novel? It won’t be my last, though! This is another dual perspective book, the story alternating between Ira – an elderly man who has gotten into a car accident and is relying on a lifetime of memories with his dear wife Ruth to keep him holding on – and Luke and Sophia, the couple who find his car off the side of the road. Ira’s sections, in particular, had me spellbound. What a fantastic character Nicholas created in him, and oh my gosh, what a heartwarming love story he had with Ruth. It’s the kind of bond that brings tears to your eyes. And when the two stories intertwine at the end? It’s in such a fitting, beautiful way. I’ve stayed away from Nicholas’ books in the past because I know they often have sad endings, but this one was different. There was hope woven through every page, love threaded through every word.

Okay, now it’s your turn: what are your favorite books of 2014?

Best Books, 2013.


“You cannot open a book without learning something.”
~Confucius

This is the fourth year I’ve written a “best of books” post, and each time, I somehow manage to look forward to compiling it even more. It’s always such fun to think back on the stories I’ve read over the past twelve months, the characters I’ve met and the worlds I’ve been introduced to along the way. Each one is like its own present, just waiting for its treasures to be unwrapped. And how great is it that we can learn something new, something wonderful, something magical from the pages we dive into so eagerly? Pretty darn great. Pretty darn amazing.

Okay, so here we go. My favorite reads of 2013 are:

The Theory of OppositesThe Best of UsEleanor & Park

Why Can't I Be YouCatching FireThe Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service

The Theory of Opposites – Allison Winn Scotch: I’ve written about this book before, so you already know how much I adore it. The story is inspiring, the cast is captivating, and the journey you go on with the characters is one that’ll have you reflecting on your own. Her whole life, main character Willa has felt trapped within the shadow of her father’s umbrella and frozen into inertia by his insistence that free will always falls victim to fate. Until she loses her job, her husband proposes they take a two-month break, her twelve-year-old nephew moves in, and her best friend dares her to swim upstream for perhaps the first time in her life by taking every single one of her instincts and doing the opposite. Willa’s quest to challenge her beliefs and change her life will leave you wanting to fly free right along with her. What’s next? Anything. Everything.

The Best of Us – Sarah Pekkanen: Sarah’s books are always a treat, and this one is no exception. With a memorable group of characters – a group of college friends who reunite to celebrate a thirty-fifth birthday at a private villa in Jamaica – and the ominous foreshadowing of a hurricane that’s set its eye on the island, it’s a story that not only intrigues, but also keeps you on the edge of your seat. Tina, Allie, Savannah, and Dwight … they are all different as night and day, as the shells you’d find among the sand, and yet there’s a common thread woven among them. There’s a friendship that’s evolved since their collegiate days and takes on a whole new meaning as they ride out the hurricane. But even more important than braving the storm? Braving each other.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell: For months now, I’ve been hearing people rave about Rainbow’s books, and I certainly understand why. There’s a gentleness to her writing style, even when the storyline itself is painful. For high school students Eleanor and Park, life is about music. About exploration. About good triumphing over evil. About each other. Theirs is a tale about first love and its magic. Eleanor’s home life is difficult, to say the least, and as Park becomes her salvation, you can’t help but fall for their love story. Characters like these make you believe again. I was rooting for them a hundred percent, and though some of the supporting cast had me wanting to slap some sense into them, that was, of course, the point – and just makes Eleanor and Park’s dedication to one another all the sweeter.

Why Can’t I Be You – Allie Larkin: Have you ever wished you could be someone else, even for a day? What about forever? Lonely and a little lost, when main character Jenny hears somebody calling for her across a hotel lobby, she answers – even though the name bursting through the air is actually Jessie. Despite her best intentions to tell the truth, Jenny lets herself fall into Jessie’s life. She fits in with her friends. She fits in with her hometown. She fits in with this new world. Even as she weaves a web of deceit, you can’t help hoping for Jenny to find her happily-ever-after … to create that happily-ever-after. Because, even though being Jessie teaches her a lot, Jenny’s journey is really about recognizing her truest self.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins: This one is actually a re-read, since I wanted to refresh my memory before seeing the movie version earlier this month. What can I say about this book? It’s my favorite from the trilogy, striking a perfect balance between action and emotion, and although I already knew what happened, I still found myself unable to stop reading. Katniss is the kind of heroine you can’t help admiring: fearless, dedicated, brave, and strong. She has heart. Peeta has heart. Even some of their fellow victors have heart. They create a team in the unlikeliest of circumstances and remind us that sometimes it’s better to stand together than fall apart. If we can remember that … well, then the odds will be in our favor.

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service – Beth Kendrick: Lara is a matchmaker extraordinaire — except, instead of setting up her clients on a date, she finds them the perfect furry soulmate. Add that to her day job as a dog trainer, and her love for the canine species is pretty clear. But her boyfriend’s? Not so much. When their fight over one of Lara’s dogs escalates and she finds herself without a boyfriend – and without a home – she must work to pull her world back together. As she moves into her mother’s gated community and becomes a Dog Whisperer of sorts to the other residents, you can’t help smiling at the antics of the hilarious supporting cast. And when Lara finally realizes what a short leash she’s been clipping herself to? You’ll be cheering for her all the way.

Tell me: what are your favorite books of 2013?

Time Machine.


“We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.”
~Jeremy Irons

So … I was all set to begin this post by writing something like “how in the world is it December 31st already?” or “the cliche is true: time really does fly, really does whiz by in the blink of an eye.” And that is true. The days speed by too quickly, leaving us to capture freeze-frames with our minds, with our moments, with our memories. But it’s also true that this year has felt like a long one. Not in a bad way. In a good way. When I travel backward to January, when I close my eyes and the movie reel of 2012 plays before my eyes, there are so many scenes to fill that screen. I may not have accomplished all I set out to, but even so, this year was overflowing with experiences I’ll always cherish.

There were concerts that filled my soul with song and my heart with happiness. Kristin Chenoweth, Carrie Underwood, Rachel Platten, Graham Colton, American Idol, Clay Aiken, and of course Kelly Clarkson … some of my favorite moments of 2012 are singing along to their inspiring music.

Kelly Clarkson

Clay

There were meet and greets with some of the fabulous cast members of General Hospital, who never fail to make an impact through their acting prowess, genuine compassion, and dedication to their fans.

Scott and Becky

Take 1!

There were good books, good movies, and good music. There were vacations at the shore, one in particular that taught me a much-needed lesson. And there was a signing with one of my favorite authors, who continues to change the world, one story at a time.

Emily

There was writing Mine to Love and deleting 50,000+ words during edits, a task that sometimes seemed impossible but always filled me with inspiration. There were visits to NYC with family and friends. There were scary scenes physically and bittersweet experiences emotionally. Celebrating my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah this November was beautiful, and lovely, and special … but without Gram, there was a heart-shaped hole. There will always be a hole without her, and though it’s still been difficult this year, we are, at least, learning to look back on the memories with smiles instead of tears. My writing, too, has helped me heal. Words are what I do. They’re who I am. And still, there will never be enough to adequately thank Sofie, Brandon, and Ellie for showing me how to move beyond the grief. To parlay the hurt into hope. It’s just one of many ways that they’ve left a handprint on my heart.

So, too, have the amazing people in my life. We should all be so lucky as to have family who are like friends and friends who are like family. That includes all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you not only for reading my random ramblings, but for all the support, community, encouragement, and friendship you’ve brought into my life. I am endlessly grateful to know y’all and call you my friends.

KCgroup

Rachelgroup

Katie

Kaitlin

Steph

MK

Sara

I’ve written before that I’m not normally about broad, overarching resolutions. I’d rather make every day the best it can be, live every day to its fullest potential. But even so, I’m excited to set these goals for 2013:

~Query literary agents for Mine to Love, working as hard as possible to find someone who connects with the characters like I do, who believes in their journey like I do, who wants to share their story with the world like I do. Nothing would make me happier. This book pushed me further, made me stronger, than any ever has, and I am so filled with hope for what comes next.

~Take the ideas for a new manuscript that are swirling frenziedly through my mind and weave them into a book. The premise for this one has been poking around my thoughts for over a year now and I absolutely cannot wait to see where it goes in the months ahead. I suspect it’ll feel strange at first, writing about different characters after spending so long with Sofie and Company, but I am excited and exhilarated to see where they take me and how they help me grow further.

~Read 26 books (Last year’s plan of 52? It went pretty well for awhile, until I spent so much time working on the computer each day that my eyes just about staged a protest when I tried to focus them on book-print afterwards.).

~Travel to Nantucket (I came this close to making that happen in 2012 and am now even more determined to get there) and perhaps back down South, to the cities I love so much. Atlanta’s #1 on that list.

~And, as I wrote last year: live life. Embrace every moment, find joy in something each day, even if something small, and make my own luck instead of waiting for it to find me.

My hope for us all is that 2013 will be a year where dreams are realized. Where our time machines take us to beautiful places. Where passions are discovered, journeys are taken, interests are sparked, and goals are surpassed. Where love and light fill each hour of each day. Where ordinary moments become extraordinary. Where we find blessings we’d never imagined. Where every memory is a gift. And, most importantly, where good health prevails, because as my family always says, if the New Year is healthy, it’ll be happy.

Here’s to a future that shimmers with promise. Happy, Healthy New Year, everyone. Much love.

Best Books, 2012.


“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
~Mortimer Jerome Adler

It was back in October that news broke about one of our local Barnes and Noble stores closing – one that has been in the area for twenty years, one that has become a landmark, one that has been a gateway to so many new worlds for so many different people. The doors close on December 31st, and as I wandered along the bookshelves for one final time on Monday, I couldn’t help but remember all the wonderful memories I have from that store. Sitting in the children’s section when I was younger, sorting through the tottering tower of books I’d selected as possibilities to buy. Piling up an equally large stack as an adult, mentally convincing myself that it was okay – perhaps even more than okay – to splurge on an extra novel or two. Breathing in that fresh book smell – you know the one – as I waited in line for the next available cashier. Enjoying the delicious blend of coffee in the air, paperbacks in my hand, and adventures just waiting to play out in my mind. Sitting in the car, reading the first few pages of a new story, because the fifteen minute drive home seemed too long. And so, even though my to-read list is already soaring, I couldn’t resist buying one more book there, just because. Perhaps it’ll be part of this post next year?

By “this post,” I mean my annual Best of Books post, which has become one of my favorites to write each year. Here’s 2010’s and 2011’s. As always, it was tough to narrow down the list this year, but here’s a sampling of the books that have resonated so far and beyond their pages.

My favorite reads of 2012:

Ten Girls to WatchWhere We BelongThe Song Remains the Same

I've Got Your NumberThe Hunger GamesThese Girls

Ten Girls to Watch – Charity Shumway: Pretty sure I’ve raved about this book so much over the past couple months that anyone who reads this blog would have guessed it’d make the list. It is, simply put, phenomenal. Filled with insight and eloquence, the story follows Dawn West as she navigates her way through life and love. Tasked with tracking down the five hundred finalists of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest, Dawn embarks on a journey she can’t begin to imagine until she’s in its midst. Fifty years of finalists, fifty years of dreaming big and working hard, fifty years of lessons, fifty years of wisdom, fifty years of inspiration … as Dawn interviews these women, she learns not only about them, but also about herself. We watch as the dreams of writing scrawled through her heart take flight. We watch as she grows. We watch as she stumbles, falls, and picks herself up again. And as we do that, we see so much of ourselves in her. Because, truly, Dawn is someone to watch, too.

Where We Belong – Emily Giffin: I have loved all of Emily’s books, but this one is my favorite. This one is something I’ll reread multiple times. This one has stayed with me, even though it’s been five months since I got lost in its pages. There is something very special about the journey of Marian Caldwell, a television producer in New York, and her eighteen-year-old daughter Kirby Rose. Their story is about adoption, about love, about regret, about second chances, about faith, about pain, about abandonment, about hope. About life. Kirby’s quest to find her birth parents – Marian and Conrad – tugs at the heartstrings. It makes your breath catch in your throat, it makes your eyes well with tears, it makes your heart go out to everyone involved. There’s a beauty in this story’s complexity, but also a simplicity in what all the characters crave: to find their place, to find their home, to find themselves. Obviously this book struck a chord with me because I’ve written so much about adoption myself, but beyond that, it is just … beautiful. Fingers crossed tightly as can be for a sequel.

The Song Remains the Same – Allison Winn Scotch: Allison posted an excerpt of this book on her website several months before its publication date, and just from that first chapter, I was immediately intrigued. Immediately invested. Immediately eager, curious, and excited to learn about Nell Slattery and her story. One of only two survivors after a horrific plane crash, Nell is left with a memory that’s been obliterated and a life that feels foreign. It’s a clean slate, a fresh songbook. But is that a good thing? Or is it the very thing that will prevent her from moving forward? We follow along on Nell’s journey to learn more about herself, to re-learn more about herself, and to make sense of what her family and friends tell her. But when the people she has to rely on unconditionally start to keep secrets and become selective in the memories they share, Nell turns to music to fill in the blanks. Lyric by lyric, she begins to piece together the puzzle of her life – and to realize that things aren’t always as they seem. And once she truly takes matters into her own hands? Once she begins to look at this second chance as a blessing and not a curse? That’s when her song stops being the same. That’s when it becomes one she composes.

I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella: This is, hands down, the most fun book I read all year. There’s a charm to it, a sweetness to it, a cleverness to it, a makes-you-feel-all-warm-and-fuzzy quality that will have you smiling the whole way through. As always, Sophie’s characters are infectious, and I found myself rooting for Poppy from the very beginning. First, she loses her heirloom engagement ring during a hotel fire drill. Then her cell phone is stolen. Desperate to leave the hotel a number where they can reach her if the ring is found, Poppy spots an abandoned phone in a trash can, claims it as hers, and hopes that the tides will start to turn in her direction. Instead, she ends up forging a relationship – sometimes friendly, sometimes not – with the phone’s real owner, Sam. As they communicate via text, via email, and finally, in person, Poppy and Sam inadvertently turn each other’s lives upside-down. And when it comes time for Poppy to say “I Do” … well, that’s when things are turned upside-down most of all.

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins: I picked up this book assuming that I wouldn’t care for the story. It’s not at all the type of book I normally read, not even close, and so I was more than a bit surprised when I literally COULD. NOT. PUT. IT DOWN. And when I subsequently tore through the next two in the trilogy, needing to know how everything turns out for Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the other characters whom Suzanne paints with her words. It is clever, and smart, and overflowing with so many twists and turns. It is difficult to read at times, but even so, there’s almost a compulsion to see what happens next. Katniss is a character with heart. She would do anything for the people she loves, does do anything for the people she loves, and we see in her a courage that inspires. She is strong. Determined. Brave. And while there are parts of the trilogy that made me cringe, parts that made me cry, parts that made me so angry I wanted to throw the book across the room, there are also parts that gave me hope. That made me ignore everything else so I could stay immersed in the story. This tale is one that makes us question a lot … but one that also makes us believe in the triumph of good over evil. May the odds always be in favor of that.

These Girls – Sarah Pekkanen: Sarah’s books are like inspiration for the soul, and this one is no exception. Because these characters, these girls – Cate, Renee, and Abby – linger. Their stories linger. Their friendship lingers. They are thrown together by chance – Cate and Renee write for the same magazine, and Abby is the sister of a fellow journalist who works in the building – but become their own family by choice. And though they each have secrets which threaten to break them down, it is their bond with one another that eventually lifts them up and gives them the courage to tackle their demons. It is through facing their pasts that they’re able to find hope for their futures. What I love most about this book? About all of Sarah’s characters? They’re relatable. Reading about them, we are, in a sense, reading about ourselves. We see the goodness that can be found in the people we hold most dear. We see the strength that can blossom from having unconditional support. We see that these girls are you, me, us. And we know that, like them, we can blaze our own trails and create our own paths.

What are your favorite books of 2012?

Looking Back & Looking Forward.


“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”
~Albert Einstein

Usually when it comes time to write an end-of-year post, I begin with something like “How have the months flown by this quickly?” or “It seems like it was just January, yet here we are in December.” This year? Not so much. 2011 has been very long, very difficult, and very emotional. If it was at all possible, I’d choose to erase about three-quarters of it from my memory. But, of course, that’s not actually possible at all, which means every moment that I’d give anything to forget will always be a part of me. I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be. We are amalgamations of our experiences, good and bad alike.

And, as this year has shown me, even among the terrible, the tragic, the break-your-heart-into-pieces, there is always a ray of light to be found. For me, that’s all of you. There are no words to describe the endless gratitude I will always have for the kind comments, the unwavering support, and the beautiful friendship you’ve offered. You all have been the stars that illuminated a very dark sky, and I am thankful each and every day for that – and, even more, for you. There is no doubt about it: I don’t know how I’d have gotten through this year without the amazingly special people in my life. Losing Gram was like losing a part of my heart, and that combined with the highly-emotional querying rollercoaster and some other difficult situations – well, suffice it to say that I truly cannot wait to close the door on 2011 and walk through the one that leads to 2012. My greatest wish for you all? That you run through it, too, leaping forward with hope, faith, and inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, this year hasn’t been entirely difficult. It certainly had wonderful moments, too. There was writing Dear Ellie and editing it down to almost half its original length, a Herculean task that originally seemed insurmountable. There were visits to New York to see very special people who make the world a better place. There were times spent with friends and vacations with family. There were good books, good movies, and good music. Every one of those things, each one of those people, has been a blessing, and perhaps being set against such a difficult-to-comprehend backdrop makes those blessings shimmer even more brightly.

2012? It has to be better than 2011. I’ve written before that I’m not usually about broad, sweeping resolutions when the calender flips and we enter a New Year. I’d rather make every day the best it can be. That still holds true, but it’s always good to set some goals, too. So, in 2012, I hope to – and will work toward – achieving these starbursts of faith:

*Continue querying literary agents for Reflections of Me, using my newly-updated database and working each day to find someone who believes in my books enough to offer representation.

*Write two new manuscripts – the third (and final) journey in Sofie’s story and another based off one of the ideas on my ever-growing list.

*Read fifty-two books, ideally one each week.

*Travel somewhere I’ve never been before (would especially love to see Nantucket!) and go back to some of the cities I love so much, like Atlanta and Nashville.

*Enjoy life. Embrace every moment, find joy in something each day, even if something small, and believe that things can, and do, get better.

My hope for us all is that 2012 will be a year where dreams come true. Where passions are discovered, journeys are taken, and goals are reached. Where love and light fill each day. Where ordinary moments are extraordinary. Where we find blessings we’d never imagined. Where every memory is a gift. Where, instead of waiting for luck to find us, we make it for ourselves. And, most importantly, where good health prevails for everyone, because, as my mom always says, if the New Year is healthy, it’ll be happy.

Wishing you all the very, very best. Here’s to a future that glimmers with hope. Happy, Healthy New Year, everyone. Much love to you all ♥

Here’s to tomorrow…


“Cherish your yesterdays, live your todays, and dream your tomorrows.”
~Unknown

December 31st.

How did we get here already? This is normally the time of year when I’m reflecting on how fast it flew by, how those moments and memories sped up into a crazy whirlwind. And maybe parts of 2010 did, too. Maybe its patchwork was woven more quickly than I realize. For the first time in a long time, though, I’m ready – really ready – to move on. As I talked about here, this year was a mixed bag. It had many, many wonderful moments and was filled with some very special experiences that I’ll always treasure. Among those – I wrote two novels, and honestly, sometimes I still can’t quite believe it. Holding those printed pages in my hands, seeing that tangible proof, especially with Reflections of Me … it’s something I can’t describe, by far one of the best and most meaningful parts of this year. As it draws to a close, I’m even more passionate about writing and even more certain that this is how I’m meant to live my life. 2010’s also had a lot of not-so-wonderful moments, though, and some experiences that I’d rather forget. There’s been too much pain, too much sadness, and too much frustration. Honestly, that seems to be the case for so many people. 2010 has been a year of struggles, but also a year of triumphs. It’s been a year of ups and downs, of true happiness and staggering sadness. It’s hard to skirt over the hard times when you look back at the year, and maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should mull them over and find a way, some way, to turn the hurt into hope. After all, that’s what a fresh start is all about, right?

Maybe today is about reflecting on the year that’s about to end – the low points, the highlights, and everything in between – but tonight and tomorrow are about something different. They’re about looking forward to the future and all that this new year has to offer. My wish? That it’s better than 2010 for everyone. That our dreams turn into realities. That we find what we’re searching for, yearning for, wishing for. That success is right around the corner, with wonderful surprises and welcome changes. That we embrace every day as a new opportunity. That everyone has good health – because really, if we have that, the rest will somehow fall into place.

I’m not one for broad, sweeping resolutions. I’d rather focus on making every day the best it can be. That said, with everything I am, all my heart and soul, I hope 2011 is the year that my journey to publication takes the next step forward. Words cannot express how deeply I want that or how hard I’m willing to continue working for it to happen. Is it a resolution for the coming year? Not exactly. It’s more like a promise to myself. There have been a lot of lessons learned this year. You never know what tomorrow will bring, so it’s important to embrace every day, live every moment – and live them out loud. Obstacles don’t mean you should give up. They mean you should dream bigger and work harder. And those obstacles? Maybe they’re just challenges to overcome. Because, as the quote reminds us: “When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.'”

Here’s to those times. Here’s to not letting life pass us by. Here’s to making our own destiny and our own luck instead of waiting for it to find us. Here’s to a New Year filled with happiness, joy, and love. Here’s to every goal being reached and every dream coming true. Here’s to the past and the present, but most of all, the future. Here’s to tomorrow. Happy New Year, everyone! ♥

Between the Lines.


“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”
~William Hazlitt

Snow

Like much of the Northeast, we were covered with a crystalline blanket of white this past weekend. The first major snowfall of the season is always exciting – well, until the storm is over and the slippery roads linger behind – and this time was no exception. It was cold. It was icy. It was windy. And did I mention snowy? We got just over a foot here, which pales in comparison to the twenty inches in NYC and the twenty-eight at the shore, but it was still enough to turn the area into a winter wonderland. Wispy flakes fluttered through the air: tiny, sparkling diamonds that clung to the grass, to the tree branches … really, to just about every available surface. And when the wind picked up (okay, that’s an understatement, considering that the gusts reached somewhere around 60 mph), well, what better to do than curl up inside with a good book? Writing + reading + snow = Perfection. If that’s not a well-known mathematical equation, then I don’t know what is.

With the end of the year quickly approaching, that got me thinking. What are my favorite books that I’ve read over the past twelve months? I was already looking forward to writing this post, and when Kristan did a similar one, it really made me stop and think. So many people love to read. So many of us love to get lost in a book, to read between the lines and go on a journey right along with the characters. When it comes to the actual stories, though, preferences vary so widely. I love that. I love that we’re all drawn to different ideas, to different subjects, to different genres. What’s that phrase? Variety is the spice of life. As a writer, I’m always interested to hear what makes others choose to write in specific genres. What makes those characters the most compelling for them? What makes those stories the ones they want to – or have to – tell? As a reader, I’m just as curious. I love going through everyone’s “best of” lists. Who knows when and where I’ll find a new book to adore?

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve read this year:

Heart of the MatterThe One That I WantBeyond Me

A Bump in the RoadThe HelpA Little Bit Wicked

Heart of the Matter – Emily Giffin: I was looking forward to this book from the moment I first found out about its release date. I randomly stumbled upon one of Emily’s novels last year, and when I read the entire thing in one day, I knew I had found an author who would be jumping to the top of my favorites list. Well, it was more like she catapulted. There’s something very special and unique about her writing. She crafts these stories that immerse you in their pages and these characters who feel so real that it’s like they’re your friends. Her novels and their messages stay with you even after the last page, resounding and striking a memorable chord. This story of Tessa, Nick, and Valerie – and the twist of fate that made their paths intersect – is one of those. I couldn’t put the book down (literally, pretty sure I actually read straight through dinner that night), and was so, so excited to pass it along. Getting to introduce people to Emily’s work is always a joy. It’s truly like sharing a friend, because that’s what her books become.

The One That I Want – Allison Winn Scotch: This is another book that inspires. I first heard about Allison through a friend, and after rushing through her second novel because it was JUST THAT GOOD, I couldn’t wait for her third to be released this June. There are so many things I could say about this novel, so many threads that Allison interwove to tell such an important story. For Tilly and the cast of characters, the lessons they learn are all about clarity. What is life like now? What can it be like in the future? And, perhaps most importantly, where do we find the strength to turn “what could be” into “what is” instead? Allison has an incredible talent for writing stories that not only pull you in as a reader, but also make you reflect on your own life, often without even realizing it. Her books are relatable. They make you think. And, beyond that, they make you hope. Through the characters’ journeys, we consider our own. Isn’t that what great writing is supposed to achieve?

Beyond Me – Melinda Doolittle: What to say about this book? Well, it’s no secret that I think Melinda is amazing. Her heart is every bit as big as her talent, and I consider myself truly lucky to know her. She’s been an inspiration to me for years, and to say that I was elated when I found out she was writing a book is an understatement. This isn’t just the story of how she broke into the business. It’s a story of persistence, faith, and hope. It’s a story about dreaming big and then working hard to make those dreams come true. From her personal triumphs to her idea of creating a “faith wall” as motivation, Melinda doesn’t just encourage. She inspires. This whole book is uplifting and promise-filled, because that’s who Melinda is. She changes lives for the better. She changes them for good. I couldn’t be more grateful or more thankful to include myself among those lives. Melinda’s book will be one you don’t soon forget. In fact, it’s kind of impossible not to sing its praises.

A Bump in the Road – Maureen Lipinski: Sometimes there’s a novel that just gets to you in a way you can’t quite explain. That’s exactly what happened for me with both this book and its sequel. Maureen takes us along on main character Clare’s journey to becoming a mother. We watch her emotions change. We watch her perspective broaden. We watch her heart expand with a love that can only come from carrying a new little life and feeling it blossom. Clare’s pregnancy wasn’t planned, but Maureen beautifully reminds readers that sometimes the best things in life aren’t. Sometimes taking a chance and opening up your soul to possibility ends up changing your world in ways you never could have imagined. This book made me laugh (literally, out loud), it made me feel, it made me reflect … and yes, it even made me get a bit teary-eyed at the end. I read this over the summer, and I still can’t quite put into words exactly why I loved it so much. There was just something about it.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett: I owe Megan a HUGE thank you for recommending this book to me. It’s historical fiction meets women’s fiction, with so many important messages flawlessly woven throughout. The alternating viewpoints in the novel give us insight into so many characters. We see into their lives, but more importantly, we see into their hearts and souls. We learn what their worlds are like, and that only makes it even more touching and striking when they start to come together and work toward a common goal. Boundaries are crossed, lines are stepped over, and stereotypes are smashed. It’s a serious book that covers serious issues from American history, but it’s also filled with so much hope. The characters are truly inspiring, and they paint a picture of possibility. Sometimes all it takes is one person to start changing the world in unbelievable ways. Sometimes all it takes is one book to remind us of that.

A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages – Kristin Chenoweth: I’ve mentioned Kristin’s autobiography several times on here, so I’ll keep this one short. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time now, and not just because of her singing and acting prowess. Of course she inspires through those talents – “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” mean more to me than I can put into words – but it goes beyond that. She inspires through her outlook, through her optimism and belief. This book bottles all of that in its pages. We learn about Kristin’s journey over the years, and we also learn about the grace and wisdom with which she’s approached it all. On a personal note, there’s a part of this book that resonated very, very strongly with my new novel. I’ll never forget the chill I got when I first read it. Instant connection. I think that’s what is so unique about Kristin, though. She sings. She acts. She writes. And through it all, she makes you realize that you can achieve your dreams, too. We can all defy gravity.

This is just a sampling of the books I’ve read and loved this year. A full list is here. I already have several books on my list for 2011 and can’t wait to keep reading, reading, and reading some more! How about you? Did you have a favorite book this year? Were there any that resonated well beyond their pages?