Girl on the Train, People Watching for your Benefit

This month I was on a mission to be a “secret shopper” and find out what other people are reading to bring you some interesting Summer Reading suggestions. This meant that I was going to put my 2+ hour daily commute on public transportation to good use by observing what my fellow passengers were reading. I immediately hit three major roadblocks:

1 – Most people reads from their Kindles. Since people tend to read on the train to avoid human interactions, I couldn’t break this unspoken rule by verbally asking them what they were reading. However, I have come to believe that a few individuals were just staring at blank screens and zoning out, clearly some form of meditation.

2 – Most people read their books like they are smuggling contraband, holding them close to their chests. Plus, they either removed the dustcovers or they put on their own book covers, which is a very common thing to do when reading a romance novel in public so everyone doesn’t see a sexy man chest cover the first thing in the morning.

3 – I am no Jenny McCarthy; I could never be a spy. So unless the books were in my immediate area, I really couldn’t see the book titles. I blame the constant swaying of the train on the tracks and not, I repeat not, on my eye sight. I don’t need glasses. (Note to Self: I should probably make an appointment with an Ophthalmologist.)

After all those disclaimers, below are some involuntarily book recommendations from passengers who brought in regular books and made the mistake of sitting near me.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: This 896 page book has the added benefit of also serving as a heavy blunt object in the case of a self-defense emergency. The book also breaks the no talking rule as Jamie Fraser Fever is at a record high. Many women give the nod of approval when this book is out in the open.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: It was hard not to notice that the reader was holding back tears. I believe this excellent book should come with a warning, to all animal lovers that this book is worth the read but not to expect to have dry eyes.    

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: As the person next to me read this book, I fought hard against sympathy itching while repressing memories of past poison ivy experiences.

Girl on the Train


Lastly, My Recommendation: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, strictly for the synchronicity to my blog’s theme. It’s getting a lot of buzz, awards, and a movie deal so it doesn’t need me to sing it’s praises but that won’t stop me. However it was almost creepy to be reading a book about a complicated woman describing the minutia of daily life on a commuter train when this reader was on a train trying NOT to identify with the messed up main character. It’s kind of like reading Moby Dick while on a boat, why do that to yourself?

So what are you reading right now? Or more interesting, what book have you seen someone else reading?

Summer Reading: Debut Authors Who Published in the Last Year

summer-reading-006This summer, I’ve decided to use my reading list as an educational tool. I’m going to deconstruct a bunch of excellent books to find out why they are…well, excellent. The first step in this process is to build a list of talented authors. I totally have the cheat-sheet though, because I’m lucky enough to be part of the Dreamweavers, the Golden Heart Awards class of 2014. Since the finalist of this prestigious contest for unpublished writers were announced last year, the Dreamweavers have signed publishing deals, launched successful indie titles, finaled in numerous other contests, and won several awards. It’s a group of incredibly talented writers, who also happen to be the most supportive and encouraging women I have had the honor to know.

If you are like me and want to spend your summer reading amazing novels that demonstrate the craft elements and creative skills that make you devour a story in one sitting, but are also books that have the key ingredients for selling in today’s competitive market, this is the list for you. (You’re welcome :-) )

In case you have a favorite one, the list is sorted by genre.


afterlifeThis Is Your Afterlife by Vanessa Barneveld

Sixteen-year-old Keira Nolan has finally got what she wanted-the captain of the football team in her bedroom. Problem is he’s not in the flesh. He’s a ghost and she’s the only one who can see him.



FINAL HIDDEN 1Hidden Deep by Amy Patrick  (Book 2: Hidden Heart is also available.)

Sixteen-year-old Ryann Carroll has just run into the guy who saved her life ten years ago. You might think she’d be happy to see him again. Not exactly. She’s a bit underdressed (as in skinny-dipping) and he’s not supposed to exist.


LLG-postcard-front-202x300etting Go by Jessica Ruddick

How long do you hold on? Cori Elliott likes order. Her schedule, her social life…even her GPA is perfect. Then she finds out her high school boyfriend’s death wasn’t an accident-it was suicide.



LockedLoadedLyingLocked, Loaded, & Lying by Sarah Andre

Olympic skier Lock Roane was on top of the world: smashing world records, collecting medals, and basking in the love of a nation and his beautiful heiress girlfriend. It all comes crashing down after Lock discovers his girlfriend had an affair – then wakes from a drunken bender to find himself covered in her blood.


DeepEndThe Deep End (The Country Club Murders #1) by Julie Mulhern

Swimming into the lifeless body of her husband’s mistress tends to ruin a woman’s day, but becoming a murder suspect can ruin her whole life. It’s 1974 and Ellison Russell has long since stopped caring about her cheating husband and the women with whom he entertains himself. That is, until she becomes a suspect in Madeline Harper’s death. 


heart_450x2It’s In His Heart (A Red River Valley Novel) by Shelly Alexander
(Available Aug 1)

Ella Dennings is furious. All she wants is to enjoy a quiet summer retreat in her Red River Valley cabin to heal after her husband’s death. But who does she find holed up there but her husband’s sexy best friend—a man capable of seducing women within seconds—and a man Ella has never liked.


TexasMarriageTerms of a Texas Marriage by Lauren Canan

Because of a two-hundred-year-old deed, modern Texas rancher Shea Hardin must wed wealthy landowner Alec Morreston to save her family home. She says yes—and swears this marriage will be in name only.



SComfortSouthern Comfort (Fitzgerald House) by Nan Dixon

Abigail Fitzgerald has always followed her mama’s rules when it comes to running their family’s B and B. But her mama never had to resist a man like Grayson Smythe.



YouReallyGotMeYou Really Got Me by Erika Kelly
(Book 2: I Want You To Want Me available July 7)

Emmie Valencia has what it takes to be the music industry’s hottest band manager. She just needs to prove it. Determined to discover a killer new band, Emmie is ready to make her move. First stop: Austin, Texas.


Channel20SomethingChannel 20 Something by Amy Patrick  (Books 2, 3, and 4 in this series are also available)

Heidi Haynes is almost one year into her “real life”. She has her first reporting job, her first apartment, and a comfortable relationship with her college sweetheart. But for some reason she’s not as eager to talk about walking down the aisle as he is.


SlowSteadySlow and Steady Rush by Laura Trentham
(Book 2: Caught up in the Touch available July 21)

Darcy Wilde lives by the book—and is still searching for her happily ever after. But when her beloved Grandmother needs help, Darcy takes a leave of absence and heads back to the home and past she left behind.



PreacherPromiseThe Preacher’s Promise (Home to Milford College) by Piper Huguley
(A prequel novella to this series is also available)

Amanda Stewart is all alone in the world when her dead father’s unscrupulous business partner offers her an indecent proposal to earn a living. Instead, to fulfill a promise she made to her father, she resolves to start a school to educate and uplift their race.



A Virtuous Ruby (Migrations of the Heart) by Piper Huguley
(Available July 14)

After fifteen months of hiding from the shame of bearing an illegitimate child, two words drive Ruby Bledsoe to face the good citizens of Winslow, Georgia. Never again. She vows to speak out against injustice. For her sisters. For her parents. For her infant son, Solomon.


LadyEsteemA Lady of Esteem (Hawthorne House) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Miss Amelia Stalwood may live in London at her absent guardian’s townhouse, but she’s never actually met any nobility, and instead of aristocrats, her closest friends are servants. Quite by happenstance, she’s introduced to the Hawthorne family and the reformed Marquis of Raebourne.


HauntingDesireA Haunting Desire by Julie Mulhern (Available July 28)

The denizens of 1902 New Orleans’ red light district aren’t strangers to sinful, violent acts–but, the freshly eviscerated men found in the gutters send a collective shudder through the crescent city.



IndicentInvitationAn Indecent Invitation by Laura Trentham

Trying to untangle a web of deceit, Crown spy Gray Masterson also has to ensure Lily Drummond doesn’t get herself ruined at her London debut. Keeping her safe is difficult and keeping a proper distance is downright impossible, because the girl with scraped knees and elbows who was his constant shadow growing up has evolved into a lush, sensual beauty.


ThenIMetYouThen I Met You by Deborah C. Wilding

Impoverished Honolulu heiress Merrylei Wentworth has two big problems in her life. Mysterious prowlers keep vandalizing her ancestral mansion and enigmatic Japanese-American architect Jamison Sumida raises her suspicions when he offers assistance if she’ll sell him one of her late mother’s paintings.


swordthestarshipblackdigitalcoverThe Sword & the Starship: The Earth Colony Chronicles by PJ Kurtz

Genetically engineered to blend with a sophisticated, aristocratic world, Valara F’al-ten awakens from her hibernetic sleep in an uncharted star system, orbiting a planet rich in resources Earth Colony 5 needs, but how does one negotiate inter-galactic trade agreements with a society that still wields swords?


Happy Reading! :-)


Did Curiosity Really Kill the Cat?

We live in a united, democratic society. Sort of. Because united as we are, well, we aren’t. The other day I was thinking about all the ways we polarize ourselves. Not typical socioeconomic stuff like education, taxable income, zip code, etc. I was thinking about the more human divide.

For example: Drivers either name their cars or not. My gas-sipping little red Ford is named Foxy. Previous cars were dubbed Smitty and Goldy.

Here’s another: When it comes to borrowing money from relatives there are only two camps. Those who have no qualms about asking for a loan, and those who’d rather sell a kidney than ask Mom and Dad to spot them. 

And then there’s CURIOUSITY. It seems we’re either Curiosity-killed-the-cat types. Or, like Albert Einstein, “I-have-no-special-talents-I-am-only-passionately-curious” curious. Just like car names and borrowing a few bucks from family, there’s no middle ground here either.  

The creative types I hang out with (you know who you are) are definitely in the curious column, while the bean-counter side (I love you guys too) can be driven half-mad by all my questions.

I never really thought about the polarizing effect of curiosity until I picked up, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. In it, film producer Brian Grazer opened my eyes with his decades of curiosity conversations with notable experts – some famous, like Mick Jagger, some not, epidemiologist Tim Uyeki. Grazer deconstructs curiosity, calling it the engine of innovation and creativity… and yet curiosity is still overcoming its own negative history (Let’s face it, the cat did die.).

Using curiosity to empower others, and later anti-curiosity to sidestep critics, Grazer’s life-long study of this trait is fascinating. Easily the most powerful passage is about how he has no expectation of any immediate payoffs. He is curious for the sake of being curious. It’s an important point he makes. We’ve become this impatient, results-centric world. Sure, we all SAY we’re creative and innovative, but are we? Has the instant Google-ability on any subject we might ponder actually drained our society of ingenuity?

I truly loved this book. A Curious Mind was a tap on my shoulder. A reminder to slow down, have wonder in the present moment, and continue to ask questions – even the ones without answers — that irritate others.

Thank you, Mr. Grazer. Your book would make the late Maya Angelou proud. After all, she said, “When you know better, do better.” And isn’t that the point, to be curious enough to seek out the better in all of our lives? Because ultimately, it’s the better that unites society… including those who name their cars and those who don’t.

Climbing the summer TBR mountain

This month we’re making — and taking — recommendations for summer reading lists for books that inspire us, make us think, make us laugh, whatever.

The one I want to share is BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay. There’ve been a lot of “isms” in the news lately, and I thought I should probably read something about some of them even if I wasn’t sure I really wanted to read something about isms. So right from the start, the idea of being a “bad” ist was appealing to me.

I’m glad I picked it up. The essays aren’t just about feminism or critical race theory or academia — although Gay offers plenty of thoughtful thoughts about those topics. She’s just like one of those interesting friends that you want to spend more time with because whatever she says is bound to make you go “oh”.

I realize I’m probably the choir that Gay is preaching to because I believe in equal rights, equal pay for equal work, equal access to the best family planning that medicine can devise, and various other equals. I believe anyone should be able to pass out drunk and naked in the street and not have to worry about sexual assault — not that I necessarily recommend being drunk and naked in the street unless it’s Mardi Gras or something. I believe people who play Scrabble competitively are a bit weird. I kind of believe everybody should believe these things without question, right — especially the Scrabble part. But apparently we don’t? Anyway, it’s nice to read someone who has thought about these issues and presented them with care and humor and without the excessive vitriol that has sometimes made me want to not read about isms.

If too many daily news headlines hurt your heart then having Roxane Gay as a guide into the underlying issues might be a good first step in climbing this particular topical mountain.

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  iBooks  |  Kobo  |  Goodreads

Have you read any ism books that helped open your eyes? Please share in comments.

What book made you fall in love with reading?

This month’s blog posts are about collective remembrance. Since we all enjoy stories, I thought it would be fun if we all remembered what book made us fall in love with reading?

For me, it the Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.

It was 1980 something and I was in the 3rd grade. It was close to summer and I was dominating the Recess hopscotch matches so when my teacher passed out books with spines as thick as my hand’s grip, my mind, body, and spirit were elsewhere. I could have cared less about dolphins. Now if it has been a book called the Island of White Horses, I might not have rolled my eyes so much.

But as soon as I started turning the pages, I was transported from my school playground to my very own private island and I read that story as if I was the young female main character. That had never happened to me before.

Karana had the whole place to herself (I’m sure there was some kind of traumatic reason why she had no friends or family around but all my brain filtered in was that she had her own paradise). The most poignant scene was when she found bones from a large whale and built a home by placing them against a cave wall. She MacGyver’ed the outside structure and went Martha Stewart on the inside with things she found all over the island. She was my idol. She had complete freedom to do whatever she wanted (again, apologies if her family actually died and they didn’t just fade off the pages).

When I reached The End, I was like a kid with a twenty dollar bill in a candy store, Give Me More! Returning to my teacher, and after turning in my clearly deserved A+ paper, I asked her what was next?

She instructed me to go to a magically place called the Library. This required parental assistance for transportation and their help to find out that the next book was called the “Black Pearl”. I was not patient. Finally entering the library, the Dewey Decimal system almost stopped me in my tracks. Then his books were on the top shelf and I had to find one of the plastic wobbly stools. It was all kinds of drama for my 1980’s self. But none of that compared to my frustration when I started reading the first few pages and realized that we weren’t picking up from where we left off in the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

I was too young to understand that some authors wrote series while other authors wrote completely different stories. I still can’t tell you what the story of Black Pearl was about but that title is synonymous with childhood disappointment.

Being a very polite little girl, I’m sure I walked over to the librarian with sad puppy eyes and asked her why the author hated me so much but in my mind I slammed that book on her desk and gave a righteous speech about getting robbed of my next great story experience.

Eventually she asked me “What do you want to read?”

“I want to go back to the island.” The simple truth.

The librarian introduced me to books like the Swiss Family Robinson, Pocahontas and the wrong kind of island experience with the Lord of the Flies. Eventually I made it off the island and found a permanent home with Happily-Ever-After stories.

Twenty something years later, when I was volunteering at a local school to help organize their teacher resource room, I ran across a single copy of a well-read Island of the Blue Dolphins and my heart raced as I held the tiny book that changed my childhood.


I honestly can’t remember how the story ended (I’m sure there was a moral I failed to learn). And every once in a while, I have been tempted to go back and read it again but my memories of reading that story are too precious to risk being overwritten from an adult reading of the book.

So that is my story, what’s your book?


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