Size Matters by Cathryn Novak

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Oh how I wish this story had been longer.  Tackled in this book are complex issues like self-image, loneliness, disappointment,and friendship.  John Frederick is a remarkably sweet and sympathetic character that needs to have his back story, and likewise his overeating, explained further.  Lexie is patient, kind and caring and I would have liked to have seen her fleshed out a bit more, as well as her supposed relationship with Caleb, which upset John Frederick so much.  The simplicity of the relationship and story between the two of them was refreshing and the food descriptions used were beautiful and offered great visual descriptions in my mind as I was reading.

The Nerdy and the Dirty by B.T. Gottfred

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Penelope and Benedict are two teenagers just trying to make their way through high school and their family lives at home. Their unlikely friendship leads to a love story that blossoms when they both just start being real for the first time in their lives, and find the other is far more accepting of what they deem abnormal about themselves. I loved how they were both able to get what they wanted from their relationship just by being open and honest about who they are on the inside, not just the image they portray on a daily basis. Funny, extremely quirky, explicit and honest, “The Nerdy and the Dirty” is one of the few YA books to accurately capture the thoughts that go through the minds of young men and women, especially about fitting in, sex, and growing up.

Books to read for these times!

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So much division in this country based on tweets, sound bites, and talking points. Look, I’m a white, straight, married, Christian woman. And in all truthfulness, most of my friends are too. We tend to flock with our own, it’s human nature. That’s why when I meet someone new, someone who is different than me, I try to get to know them, to understand their story and background to help make me a better citizen of the world, to bring me out of my little insular box. I also find reading books that address issues that I am not familiar with helps me understand all sides of an issue as best as I possibly can. Here are some that I have read in the last few years that I highly suggest to help unify our country again and make it not so “Us vs. Them”, no matter who you are. Please note, these books are not from a white, straight, married, Christian perspective. That’s the point. I also tried to stay current in terms of publication dates.

Race Relations: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehesi Coates and “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching” by Mychal Denzel Smith. Seriously these books cut to the heart of the problems of race in this country and will transform your thinking in a big way. Also “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi and “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.

Women/Sexism: “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “Feminist Fight Club” by Jessica Bennett. These books lay out the problems women, both working outside of the home and working in the home, face every day.

Poverty: “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond and “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. Poverty is a real issue, one that has generational effects. If you have a roof over your head, three squares, and even a little bit of money, this will open your eyes to how much our country has left the poor behind.

Immigration: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and “A Nation of Nations” by Tom Gjelten. You will understand why so many see America as their only hope for a better life, whether or not they do it legally or illegally. Look at the issue with a open mind and heart, and ask yourself what you would do in the same situation.

Gay rights: “Love Wins” by Jim Obergefell and “The Gay Revolution” by Lillian Faderman. I’m not asking anyone to change their mind on homosexuality, all I ask it that you read these books to understand their side of the issue.

National security/Islam/ISIS/Middle east: “Isis” by Michael Weiss and “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai. Two very different perspectives that are honest and thought provoking.

I think these are the big topics that seem to keep popping up over and over. If we simply seek to understand as opposed to discriminate and judge, we might be able to overcome anything, no matter who runs our government. Peace, people, and READ BOOKS!

Infinity by Jus Accardo

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A strong start to a new series from Jus Accardo. Kori, a strong female character who is simply wading the treacherous waters of just being a teenage girl and losing her mother, finds herself thrust into a secret government organization, inter-dimensional travel, and extremely complex love interests. Dylan is a deliciously evil character, baiting Cade and Noah into his evil plans for revenge against them. Kori holds her own and proves that girls can often save themselves and be tough as hell!

Texas Book Festival – Day Two!

Day one was exciting for me, but day two was going to be even better.  After a great night’s sleep, I dove into the festival head first again!

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First stop this morning was to see Paulette Jiles and Stephen Harrigan present “Old News Made New.” Ms. Jiles’ new book “News of the World” has been nominated for the National Book Award and is the best example of historical fiction I have read in a long time.  Their reflections on their research and story ideas were fascinating.  I greatly enjoyed Paulette’s book and am looking forward to digging into Mr. Harrigan’s “A Friend of Mr. Lincoln” this week!

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After browsing all of the fun merchant tents and picking myself up a bookish item or two, I made my way to The Capitol building and greatly enjoyed Jade Chang, “The Wangs vs. the World” and Rufi Thorpe, “Dear Fang, With Love.”  They each read from their books and kept us all laughing and engaged while discussing their humorous looks at the “family road trip, redefined.”  It was lovely to get to speak to Ms. Chang.  As the mother of a 22 year old man myself, her character of Andrew in “Wangs” truly resonated with me and she was a delight to speak with.

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The last event for the day was the one I had been anticipating all weekend.  Truly my favorite book this year has been Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” and one of my past favorites has been Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”  To have a chance to hear two of my favorite writers together was something not to be missed.  Ms. Semple read from her new book “Today Will Be Different” and had us all hanging on her every word.  Mr. Towles’ presentation on how he imagined The Count in “A Gentleman in Moscow” was so well researched and his background history on the Russian Revolution added even more dimension to a story I have fallen in love with.  If you haven’t read this book yet, get it now, immediately.  You will not be sorry.  The Count is sure to be an enduring character in literary history for years to come.

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After off and on rain showers all weekend, the festival closed with the most gorgeous rainbow over the grounds of the Capitol, proving that reading, is indeed, heavenly!  So long Austin!  See you next year!

Texas Book Festival 2016 – Day One!

The 21st Annual Texas Book Festival was held in Austin this weekend and the line up this year did not disappoint.  Over 250 authors were available this weekend for speaking and signing.

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Set around the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, the event features tents from C-Span/Book TV, as well as for YA and Children’s authors, signings, music, and vendors of all sorts.  Several talks were also held in the rooms of the Capitol, as well as neighboring churches and hotels.

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My first stop was a reading with festival founder and former First Lady of both Texas and the US, Laura Bush, and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager.  They spoke about their love of books and education and did a very charming reading of their newest collaboration “Our Great Big Backyard’ after which they graciously signed their book for the attendees.

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Next stop was to the YA tent where I listened to some of the top YA authors in their panel called “It’s The End of The World as I Know It.”  Featuring Aaron Starmer, A.S. King, Siobhan Vivian, and Rachel Cohn, they talked about turning disaster into YA literature and how their own lives inspire their work.  I highly recommend Mr. Starmer’s book “Spontaneous” to anyone looking for an interesting take on spontaneous combustion and literally “blowing up.”

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After a quick walk to the Omni Hotel, I was extremely happy to attend a session on the great David Bowie featuring journalist Rob Sheffield and performer Thomas Dolby.  Their insights on Bowie’s career added a whole new level to his work as a musician.  I also found Mr. Dolby’s life after “She Blinded Me With Science” to be extremely compelling and definitely worth picking up his book after the lecture.

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After a delicious lunch at one of the numerous food vendors that were at the festival, I made my way back to the YA tent to hear “Twice Upon a Time,” a panel featuring Danielle Paige, Jonah Lisa Dyer, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, three authors who have taken classic stories and given them updated and modern YA spins.  One of my favorite books this year, “The Season” written by Dyer, is an updated take on Pride & Prejudice set in the crazy world of the Texas Debutante scene.  Loved it and Ms. Dyer was a delight to speak with!

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I closed out my day at First Baptist Church and was blown away by the panel featuring Noah Hawley and Don DeLillo.  Mr. DeLillo’s writing has been highly awarded and his stories and inspirations were so entertaining.  Mr. Hawley is an accomplished writer himself and his debut novel “Before the Fall” perfectly illustrates the hyper media culture we all live in today.

If you are visiting Austin, make sure you also check out the food and nightlife scene.  The restaurants and bars in town are incredible and were a lovely way to relax after a long and busy day!

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

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At just over 200 pages, this should have been an extremely quick read for me, but I simply did not want it to end. Start with the fact that this is a beautifully constructed book.  The dust jacket is gorgeous, and it comes complete with deckled pages and maps as the endpapers.

On to the story itself.  It is deeply emotional, the language is gorgeous and rich, and the book is constructed in such a way that you feel like you are in the wagon with the Captain and Johanna. The Captain is a character that will stay with me for a very long time, and the relationship that grows between the two of them truly warms the heart.  No wonder this is on the National Book Award Longlist.

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(photo credit Jill Gann Photography)

Paulette Jiles was kind enough to discuss the writing of this book:

  1. What draws you to write about the Civil War era?

I was first drawn to it when I was researching the Civil War era in the Missouri Ozarks when doing family genealogy. That research went into Enemy Women. If you are a writer, research is really kind of an investment, a storehouse of stuff, facts, images and documents ready to hand. I was thinking of a sequel to Enemy Women in which I envisioned Adair and the Major moving to north Texas.  So I looked into conditions in North Texas at the end of the War and discovered stories about the black frontiersman Britt Johnson, which led to more research for Color of Lightning. This included discovering Captain Kidd by hearing about him from a neighbor here where I live. This neighbor’s ancestor was a real newsreader named Captain Kidd, or Kydd. It also led to looking into the intriguing subject of captives held by the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. And these things gave rise to News of the World. When you begin research, you step onto the Yellow Brick Road and there is no end to it. No end to the stories.

  1. How many months or years of research went into gathering the fascinating historical details we see in the book?

It is hard to say how much time went into research for News of the World, because it all came from that storehouse I have of sources for both the Civil War, Texas and the clothing, etc. of that time. It was cumulative, from two previous novels. I used Wikipedia a great deal and especially the further references at the end of every Wikipedia article, and their sources. Also, I must say the fact-checkers at Harper Collins were wonderful, very keen and interested, they found mistakes I had let slip by and also pointed me to other sources. To get things right you have to love research. It’s an addiction.

  1. Fans of The Color of Lightening will be happy to see Britt Johnson reappear in News of the World. How did you come upon the idea of bringing him into this narrative?

I was amazed that he had not been given a fuller treatment in literature, he is an archetypal hero figure, like Roland or Beowulf or El Cid. His story, while true, has all the attributes of the classic tragic hero. I just went back to the scene in Color of Lightning when Captain Kidd is reading from a newspaper about the Fifteenth Amendment while Britt and his crew, Dennis and Paint, stand in the back of the hall listening. It is raining. Something momentous is taking place. I shifted this scene into its own book, page one, and suddenly the subject becomes a captive girl. You can always use a good scene twice!

  1. How would you explain your love of the Texas landscape, which figures so prominently in your overall body of work?

Some people are just born with a love of landscape or the outdoors, or gardening, or raising large animals, or searching through the non-urban world for treasure. It’s in your DNA or something. I am one of those people. We should have a secret sign. Part of the fun of researching Color of Lightning was driving up to North Texas with a friend, June Chism, to the Red River country. She and her husband Wayne have relatives there, as well as friends (ranchers) who took me down to the Red River, where I found the place Britt would likely have crossed, and we found the Stone Houses, and visited Spanish Fort et cetera. It is a beautiful and also dangerous country. It is dramatic. There are fires, droughts and floods, rolling red land, astonishing skies. June’s husband Wayne Chism is the one whose ancestor was the real newsreader, who traveled from town to town in North Texas to read the news of the day to those assembled. Captain Kidd or Kydd. The moment Wayne told me about his great-great grandfather I knew this was a truly great character. I put him into the rainy chill landscape of North Texas in COL, but I knew there was more there.

  1. What emotional aspect of the story do you think readers will appreciate most?

I think readers will most appreciate the Captain’s courage in doing the right thing. His protection of the innocent, his staunch defense, even to the risk of his life, of a child in need