Wild Tales by Graham Nash (paperback)

I’m a huge lover of biographies and even though much of Wild Tales takes place before I was born (I know, that’s a long time ago),  it reveals much of western culture in the sixties and seventies: sex, drugs and rock and roll. The book follows Nash’s life chronologically from Nash’s early days with The Hollies to the chaos and inspiration of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to present.

Nash’s music career begins in England in the 50’s.  The Beatles were just starting out and so were The Hollies, Nash’s first band.  Growing up in a poor family, Nash quit school at sixteen to live his dream with no repercussions from his parents.

The Hollies, to Nash’s surprise, become successful quite quickly, but Nash soon became dissatisfied.  Frustrated with the constraints of The Hollies sound and a chance meeting with Dave Crosby, are the catalysts that propel Nash to the US and the formation of the band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  Much of the book recalls the tumultuous times the group went through, sprinkled with songs you know so well.

What comes through in this story is Nash’s own unique voice.  His love of music, songwriting and his friends come through on every page.  Keep your iTunes open so you can listen to the songs of your past.  Marrakesh Express and Teach Your Children Well ran through my mind so often during my reading of this one.

Healthy After 55 by Julie Luedtke (ebook)

For many of us, our 50’s are time of change: our kids have left the house, we’re creeping up on retirement and deciding what we’ll do next. Healthy After 55 is full of practical tips and exercises to help women determine what the next chapter of their lives is going to be about. Whether it’s health, fitness or dreams that you’ve put on hold this book focuses on the future (and there’s a lot of future left to enjoy) and guides readers to take small but important steps on their journey.  The author knows what she’s talking about. She’s in her seventies and runs marathons. She’s also a certified coach for this specific age group.

Iron Flower by Laurie Forest (paperback)

Book Club Read

Laurie Forest came on my radar with her first book The Black Witch, mostly for the uproar it caused on Twitter within the YA community.  Anytime someone tells me not to read a book, you can bet I’m going to pick it up.  Censure of books is high on my list of things I don’t tolerate.

My book club read The Black Witch last year and we were excited to read The Iron Flower this year.  The story of Elloren continues as she gathers the most unlikely cohorts to battle the injustice that has prevailed for centuries within the fantasy world of the Eastern and Western Realms, at the same time struggling against the legacy and prophecy of her grandmother, The Black Witch.

Forest does an excellent job of immersing the reader in this fictional world.  There are numerous parallels to Harry Potter (a drink similar to polyjuice potion) and the Hunger Games (Coriolanus Snow becomes Vogel, who also brings to mind, Voldemorte).  While I tore through The Black Witch, The Iron Flower seemed to drag a bit in the middle and for all the danger the characters were in, their enemies seemed to be unnaturally absent.  If you’re into fantasy this might be the next one to add to your TBR.

February’s Reads:

Quiet Lessons for Introverts by Gabriela Casineau

The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu

Book Club Selection:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann


You sit down at your computer, open your work in progress and . . . nothing.  Not a word, not a sentence, not an idea comes to mind. You reread what you wrote yesterday.  Still nothing. In frustration you sit and stare at the screen panicking because this is the only time you’ve got in your busy day to write. If this sounds familiar to you, let me suggest two options that may help rid you of writer’s block and unleash your creativity.

Meditation

I’ll be honest, I’ve tried to develop a meditation practice for over three years with no success. Mostly because of the what I assumed meditation had to look like: laying on the floor or in lotus position with complete silence wasn’t something that was always achievable.  What I’ve discovered is that environment and habit forming both play a role in maintaining a meditation practice. Choose a spot that is available on a daily basis. For me, it’s the chair in my office. That’s right, I meditate where I spend the rest of my day. This works for a number of reasons.  It’s not out of my way (like the basement where I first attempted to make this a habit). It involves no preparation. I don’t have to get out pillows and bolsters, I simply sit in my chair and begin. With no preparation required, I have no decisions to make or reject. I simply need to sit down.

Using an app has also helped with my practice.  I use the Calm app, but there are plenty of others on the market.  What I like about Calm is each day has a different theme and focuses on a different meditation technique.  The background of ocean waves has become a trigger for my habit. When I hear those waves I almost instantly begin to sink into a meditative state.  Calm has a variety of backgrounds for you to listen to if waves aren’t your thing. Tamara Levitt has a wonderful voice for guiding you through the session, but you have others to choose from as well.

Meditating calms my mind and prepares me for my writing session.  It clears the cobwebs of sleep that may be lingering and I begin with no anxiety or worry.  These sessions take only ten minutes and leave you refreshed and ready for the day.

Journaling

The second habit that will unlock your creativity is journaling or morning pages as Julia Cameron calls them in her book, “The Artist’s Way.”  Cameron suggests thirty minutes of stream of consciousness writing before you begin any creative endeavor and it works.

It will take some time to develop stream of consciousness writing.  You may have the tendency to filter your thoughts as if your writing is going to be read by someone else.  An easy solution for this is to burn or rip up your pages when they are completed. This encourages honesty and gets right to the heart of how you are feeling.  An important step for creatives.

Your pages may take the form of a to-do list or a rant about your spouse.  It doesn’t matter what you write about, the important thing is to get rid of the thoughts that are taking up your thinking power.  Mel Robbins’ “brain dump” is a similar activity and can take less longer. The list allows you to prioritize your day by getting all those items you’re storing in your head and allows you to focus on what’s important before you start the day.

 

Whichever way you choose, be warned that it takes time, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work immediately.  It’s taken me three months of developing these practices every day and I only recently started to really see the benefits.

But if you stick with it, incorporating these two habits into your morning routine will add between twenty and forty minutes to your day, but I can guarantee they are minutes well spent and will free up your energy to create.

 


When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

        Joseph almost killed a teacher.

        He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

        He has a daughter.  Her name is Jupiter.  And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen.  The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

This is my first “sticky book” review.  “Sticky books” (stolen from Dan Buri because nothing explains it better) are books that seem to stick with you long after you’ve read them.  The characters are so poignant and the writing so beautiful, they live in your heart forever. I have to admit at the outset, I am a huge fan of anything that Gary Schmidt writes.  His books and characters linger long after reading the last page and Orbiting Jupiter is no exception.

The story, told from Jack’s point of view, begins with Joseph’s arrival to the Hurd home.  Initially, Jack isn’t sure what to think of the young man that has come to live with his family.  Distant doesn’t begin to describe Joseph. Jack studies Joseph, who’s only connection seems to be to Rosie the cow.  Jack observes how others treat Joseph and quickly concludes that Joseph needs someone in his corner and despite the trouble that comes his way, decides he is going to be that person.  Schmidt writes a beautifully empathetic character in Jack. His quiet observations and his determination to help another are truly touching.

We are witness to the change that comes over Joseph as he begins to grow and blossom under the kindness and care of the Hurd’s and the encouraging teachers at his school giving us hope for Joseph’s future.  Circumstances intervene, however, and the results are devastating for both Jack and Joseph.

Set in the small town of Lewiston, Schmidt shines a light on how bias and stereotypes are both accepted and rejected.  Joseph is looked down on for his past, while at the same time supported for his potential. The reader sees the dramatic effects of both.

The plot contains everything you look for when reading a Gary Schmidt novel.  Recurring inside jokes, and scenes that take place in the unlikeliest places (a barn), caring teachers and strong, endearing characters that you immediately connect to.

This is a short, easy read in terms of style and complexity, however, it does contain events and themes that are more appropriate to an older reader.  Orbiting Jupiter showcases Schmidt’s amazing ability to write sparingly while still packing an emotional punch.  If you haven’t read any of his books, I highly recommend you do! Click here to get your copy!

 


Today, I’m going to start a new feature on my blog where I review books of fellow authors, who are just starting out like me.  I’m not going to limit them to middle grade reads, but I will include any books that I think my readers might be interested in.

Review

It’s my pleasure to review Maya Mysun and the World that does not Exist by P. M. Perry.  My love of fantasy goes back to reading “The Hobbit” in Grade 8 with Mr. Music.  Perry’s book takes me back to that love a fantastical creatures and lovable heroes.  Thanks to Mr. Perry, who was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about his book.  I’m always intrigued by how author’s come up with their inspiration for writing.

The first book in this fantasy adventure series introduces us to Maya and her brother Jack.  They may be twins, but their interests are worlds apart. Maya believes in magic and Jack believes in science.  On the eve of their thirteenth birthday, Maya has a dream where she witnesses a conversation between the wizard Torackdan and Ebbelle.  They talk of news of the Lost Prince and Wraiths. Afraid of what her family might think, Maya only shares the details of her dream with her turtle, Tommy. Things get stranger when a mysterious letter is delivered to the house.  In celebration of the twin’s birthday, the family sets off to visit the museum. With the sudden disappearance of their parents at the museum. The twins are on an adventure to bring them back.

Maya Mysun has all the elements we love in a fantasy adventure: magical beings, evil villains with dark magic and characters who must use their wits to get out of dangerous situations.  Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans will enjoy this story.

Interview

Tell us about yourself and how you came to the decision to fantasy books for young people?

The story of Maya began when my daughter was very young. I challenged myself to pen a magical fantasy adventure with a heroine. A heroine like no other, one whose personal journey and development will be motivation to children and young adults.

As for myself, penning the adventure was my first attempt at writing since studying. Writing the novel proved to be challenging whilst working full time. The passion consumed many of my evenings; my routine was to conjure the ideas during my daily commute to work and pen them down in the evenings.

What was your inspiration for Maya Mysun? My daughter was the inspiration for Maya. I wanted to write an adventure with a girl who was the main character but with a difference. Even whilst writing I was advised many times that Maya needed to be more adventurous and bolder. Despite the advice you’ll find Maya to be brave, compassionate, and different than the normal heroines. You’ll have to read the adventure to really understand how Maya stands out from other heroines.

Are any characters in your book based on people you know in real life? All the characters are fictitious, but their traits are based on real people I’ve seen or observed.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book? My biggest hurdle quickly became my motivation. During the early years I sought a paid service from an established author on my writing. The author’s report advised me to stop writing. Naturally this was a great blow, though devastated, I challenged myself to complete the adventure which soon became an item on my bucket list.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel? Believe in your abilities and in the characters of your stories. I say this because despite the advice to stop writing I’ve completed Maya’s adventure. Secondly, I allowed Maya to be different, I was confident she will be liked and not be like the stereotypical heroine. Now I have proof from readers who have reflected how much they’ve enjoyed reading about Maya.

What is your favorite book to recommend to others?

I’ve enjoyed reading many authors and it is difficult to pick any one book. I’d recommend novels which subtly show young adults how one must aspire to be, and Maya’s adventure is one such story.

You can find Maya Mysun on Amazon, just click here.