May 30, 2014

the goal buffet


It's hard to manage expectations.

This is something I've tried to work on in my personal, professional writing and other professional lives. Tried is the key word. No matter how much I try, more often than not I overdo it.

I'm a goal-oriented lady by nature, which means I set fairly high standards for what I expect to accomplish every day. "Do the laundry." "Get the car's oil changed." "Run three miles." "Complete chapters two and three." My "to-do" list reads more like a novel than my actual novel. And that's a problem.

It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The server hands you a plate (or in the case of goal-setting a fresh set of post-it notes and a pen) and you step up to a spread of everything from salad (which is good for you) to fried macaroni and cheese (good for the soul, but not your body). We load up our plate piled as high as we can, and maybe even return to the line for seconds or thirds.

But within about twenty minutes, we're beyond stuffed. The fried mac and cheese no longer seems like a good idea, and you wonder how a small pile of spinach got to be so filling. Likewise, on Friday you make a huge list of everything you want to do during the weekend. By the time Sunday rolls around, you've barely checked off anything from your list, and you feel like a failure. It's next to impossible to stay motivated when you feel like a failure.

Our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs, at least that's what my mom always said. And I'm hard pressed to argue with her on that. That's why it's important to manage your expectations. You have to know how much food -- or work -- you can stomach. But as I said, managing expectations is easier said than done.

How do you go about creating realistic goals?

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May 28, 2014

keeping on keeping on

Source: Skeletor is Love

A couple of months ago I told you about some lifestyle changes I've made. As of Monday morning, I have officially completed 12 weeks of said change, so I figured it was time to give an update on the progress.

I'm happy to report that I'm keeping on keeping on. I haven't sustained any real set-backs. No caving in to the desire to gorge on candy bars. No giving up when I developed a late-Spring cold. No pigging out on the endless supply of cookies, cakes, bars and other goodies constantly filling the kitchen at work.

That's not to say I've completely deprived myself of everything good and sacred. For mother's day, I ate a small slice of angel food cake with fresh strawberries. (I skipped the extra sugar and whipped cream and gave half my slice to my brother.) I've taken a bite of some of the tastiest treats at work. (And after a taste decided it wasn't worth falling off the wagon to have another.) Just yesterday I ate a (small) slice of pizza and had a mini muffin while attending a conference. (I loaded up my plate on veggies and packed myself a healthy snack instead of eating cookies or ice cream.) And once a week (most weeks) I go out for frozen yogurt. I pick a less sugary, lower calorie variety and opt for fresh fruit toppings instead of chocolate and candy.

I'm managing my portions. I'm tracking everything I eat, and not just as a calorie, but for what kind of nutrients I'm feeding my body. I'm making healthier decisions. I try new recipes and find healthier ways to make the kind of food I love, but isn't necessarily good for me.

It's paying off. I'm not just talking about the LBs that are coming off (and they are). I'm happier than I have been in a long time. I'm thinking more clearly. Most days I have more energy. (Not every day, because no one is super energetic all the time, right?) It's easier for me to take the stairs up to my office and apartment. I can even jog/run. Not for more than three minutes at a time, but it's part of my 30-minute cardio routine. (Three minute walk, three minute run, repeat four more times.)

Mmm... Kale, Banana & Almond Smoothie.
I won't say exactly how much weight I've lost, but it's fairly substantial. I'm at the point where I've had to trade in most of my old clothes for new pieces. (Or in some exciting cases, fit into pieces from my "thinner" days.) While getting dress has often been something I dread, most days I wake up excited to try some new look. I'm more confident, and it shows. 

And people are noticing. While I'm not doing this for anyone other than myself, there is something gratifying about having a co-worker or friend say, "You look great. You look healthy. You look happy."

I still have a ways to go before I reach my goal, but I know I'll get there. I can feel it. I've tried, and failed, to lose weight the past six years, but something clicked this time. Instead of questioning why I couldn't do it earlier, I've chosen to celebrate the fact that I'm doing it now.

For the most part I haven't used any "tricks" beyond portion control, selecting healthy foods and exercising. I say mostly, because in March and April I did a two-week long exercise challenge (which consisted of cardio and strength training) and just wrapped up a two-week Clean Eating Challenge created by BuzzFeed. I had to make a few modifications to the eating plan, because I've been a pescetarian for almost three years. My biggest slip-up was drinking four servings of wine instead of two. I also made a gluten-free fruit pizza for one of the days, because it was my sister's birthday (she did the challenge, too).

I also had to cut back significantly on my exercise routine, because I was having too hard of a time netting an appropriate amount of calories per day. (Translation: I was losing more weight per week than I should have to lose a healthy amount. While this might not have bothered some people, I'm in this for the long-haul and don't want to risk damaging my body.)

Both challenges taught me important lessons about how to make better decisions when eating and exercising and gave me a little extra motivation.

In closing, I thought I'd share a few pictures of some of my favorite meals from the Clean Eating Challenge. I'll admit, I didn't love everything (radishes and raw collard greens come to mind), but I've added several new dishes to my favorites repertoire.

We have cauliflower steaks with lentils and eggs over shaved asparagus and arugula. I was skeptical about the cauliflower, but my goodness, I loved it.

Fresh fruit over Greek yogurt and a shrimp, avocado and kale stirfry. 

Mushroom faux meatballs (a recipe I invented myself using ingredients from the challenge!) and pear with almond butter. (I packed along this same snack to eat at work, today.)

And shrimp and quinoa stirfry and Shakshuka. I had my doubts about both of these dishes turning out and they far exceeded my expectations. And they were way easier than I thought.

And here's that fruit pizza (made with gluten-free crust, Greek yogurt, almond butter and fresh fruit). Super delish.

So that's my update. Here's hoping I can keep up the steady progress and have more good news to share when I report back in a couple more months.

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May 23, 2014

state of writing 2014

While I've whined about my wanderlust and envy, told you about what I want to read this summer (see the list here and here) and shared my favorite chick lit novels, I haven't been too open about the latest developments in my writing career. Because this is a blog about books and writing (specifically my writing journey), today, I give you my official "State of Laura's Writing."

Rather than getting into education reform or economy like some other state addresses, I'll share what I can about books in various states of publication and production. Unfortunately my vice president and speaker of the house (better known as Bingley and Jane) were unable to make it (they're napping -- like usual), so I won't have them backing me up. We'll also skip any number of other traditions usually associated with a state address.

That being said, get your hands ready for clapping and your knees ready for a bunch of rising and sitting for plenty of gratuitous standing ovations.

What can I say? I live for the applause. (Applause, applause...)

Thank you for that stirring introductory music, Lady Gaga. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome. Let's begin, shall we?

Published Works

My first full-length novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, was published in December 2013 with Marching Ink. For the next couple of months it's available exclusively from Amazon and the publisher.

In November 2013, Merry & Bright launched, featuring my holiday novelette, "Twelve Drummers Drumming." It's available in eBook only on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes in case you'd like to have a little Christmas in summer.

Last month, "Oh Baby," a follow-up to "Twelve Drummers Drumming," was released in the anthology, A Kind of Mad Courage. You'll find print and ebooks in the usual places, and all proceeds will go to support the Guthy Jackson Charitable Fund.

In Editing

I rewrote my second full-length novel this winter. As we speak, a lovely team of beta readers are giving this new draft a look. I made several pretty big changes, which included adding a couple of new characters and scenes and removing lots of overused words and trimming down scenes. I also created two new major plot points, which I hope make the finished product more exciting for readers.

The title of this book is... To be announced. I'm crazy about the current title, but I don't like to share story titles until there is a contract and publisher approval. With any luck, I can make an announcement about the title and its publishing future sooner than later.

I have dropped a few hints about the story, but in case you missed it, Book 2:

  • Involves weddings. Lots of them.
  • Is inspired by a Jane Austen novel (but I won't tell you which one).
  • Has a television and technology element.

I also listened to this song a lot during the writing, re-writing and editing process.

In Production

I started writing Book 3 for National Novel Writing Month in November, and promptly put it on the back burner while Book 2 edits took forever. I'm finally back to work on it, and would guess the first draft is about two-thirds of the way complete.

Again, I'm not sharing too many details about it, but I can give you a few hints. Book 3:

  • Uses several of the names submitted in the Name That Player contest held last fall.
  • Is set in Seattle.
  • Features lots of men in supporting roles.

I've been listening to this song a lot while writing.

I've also decided on a new name for this book... not that I'm going to share it just yet!

I also have another holiday story in the works. I'd originally planned to make it a novel, but I'm thinking a novella would be a better fit for this particular story. Like Book 2, I'm hoping to finish the first draft of Short 3 some time this summer.

In Pre-Production

I have quite a list of story ideas I'd like to tackle, but kind of like when you go to a buffet, I've loaded my plate a little too full for the moment. That being said, I'm pretty excited by the idea of doing a full-length novel for Autumn and Tuck, the characters in "Twelve Drummers Drumming" and "Oh Baby." I've been playing with an idea for this novel since I wrote the first short. In the past few weeks the story has really taken shape in my mind, and I've started the outlining process.

This might be NaNoWriMo 2014 book, or it might be something I start during the second session of Camp NaNoWriMo. We'll have to see how editing and drafting those other stories goes first.

That concludes this State of Laura's Writing Address. Until next time, God bless books and God bless America.

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May 21, 2014

building a brand

So... I've done a little redecorating. I mean, I'm sure you noticed on your own, but like any girl who has just had her highlights done spectacularly well, I'm too excited to wait for anyone to say something first. While we're talking about changes, I also redesigned my author website, choosing a new template, colors, etc.

This isn't my first redesign of Change the Word or the author site. If you've been following the blog for much of the past four years, then you'll know we've had a lot of looks. Like this:

And this:

Most recently this:

All paired with a busy background of some sort. That's not even to mention a series of other barely customized blogger displays, which I never kept on record.

But now that I'm published and wanting to take myself a little more seriously as a writer, I decided I should take a more serious approach to my branding as an author.

It wasn't until I started working on a consistent, but still unique, look for the blog and my author website that I realized I'd already done this a bit. I've been super consistent with fonts and style on the promotional materials I put together for Hard Hats and Doormats. The bookmarks, postcards and posters use the same font (Century Gothic). It has a nice range of bold and italics, and I just like how clean it looks.

(I'm still not thrilled with how pale that poster printed! Alas, perfection is something I must constantly try to reach!)

For the color scheme, I visited Design Seeds, one of my favorite websites, to look for inspiration. I stumbled upon on this gem, called Surf Hues, when I was actually looking at hues for another project:

I chose this, because this photo made me happy. And I liked the options available with this palette: purple, blues, pinks and brown. I felt like this was something I could play with for a while.

Using my limited graphic design skills I made the book and pen in Adobe Illustrator, paired it with the fonts in InDesign and there you have it. Two new looks for one hopefully more cohesive brand.

For the actual layouts, I use customized templates on the Blogger and WordPress platforms, and toyed around with the fonts to see what looked best on screen. There was nothing very scientific about this at all. I'm still making some changes to the menu options and sidebars on both websites, but those are elements I consider to be almost as living/breathing/susceptible to change as the content itself.

Some things haven't changed. I'm not going to go back and edit the logos I created for past series to better align with the new look. With hundreds of posts in my history, I don't have the patience to tackle such a major undertaking. Plus, it's kind of part of this blog's history. I'm also going to keep using lower cases for the headlines. This was a style I used from the beginning (Why? I can't remember.), and it's part of the charm. Or something like that.

One thing I'll admit -- this is supposed to be on a white background, but for whatever reason, whenever I upload these new designs to blogger it comes up with a gray tint. This didn't happen with my other logos, but instead of fighting it, I decided to embrace it and changed the backgrounds accordingly. Otherwise, I'd originally planned to have an all white background to make the look more crisp and clean like

I'm sure I still have room to grow on developing my brand (God, I feel pretentious whenever I talk about "my brand"), but I'm happy with where this landed for now.

Here's a question for my fellow bloggers/authors/people interested in this sort of thing: What role does branding play in what you do? Any tips or lessons learned?

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May 19, 2014

the girl crush

Me meeting my little sister, Sarah, for the first time.

My baby sister celebrated her 25th birthday, yesterday. Let me repeat that: my baby sister celebrated her 25th birthday, yesterday. While I've watched her reach other milestones -- walking, tying her shoes, turning 16, graduating high school, turning 21, graduating college -- this one feels huge.

If I'm being completely honest -- and you guys know I try not to lie to you after all we've been through together -- the reason this one is hitting me more has less to do with Sarah being a quarter of a century old and more to do with what it means for me. In less than one month I'll be 28.

I know. I'm a total narcissist. I've managed to make my sister's celebration about me. Middle child syndrome, anyone? But now that I've hijacked the situation, let's get back to my age crisis. Not that I'm in crisis mode about being a whole year closer to 30 and questioning what I'm doing with my life. I'm not there. Yet.

But I am in the self-contemplative mood that accompanies a forthcoming birthday. I'm almost 28. A proper woman (allegedly). As such, I've given some serious consideration into how I got here to be the woman I am.

No one does it alone. I have my parents, who natured and nurtured me. (That's how parenting works, right?) I have the aforementioned sister and two brothers, who are always around to help me keep it real -- and to give me reality checks when my crazy gets out of control. I have extended family, friends, teachers, bosses and a mix of people who don't fall into easily classifiable categories.

And then of course I have the women I admire almost to the point of envy. The ones I adore almost to the point of love. The ones I'm convinced I'd be best friends with if we ever crossed paths. Of course I'm talking about my girl crushes.

This stunning bunch of ladies have been with me at various points of my 20s, molding me into the classy dame here before you. But just who makes this illustrious list?

Tina Fey & Amy Poehler

I've loved these ladies since they co-starred in Mean Girls and co-anchored Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. If that hadn't sealed the deal, I would've fall in total girl crush when each went on to make two of my favorite TV shows of all time. (If you haven't watched 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation, I need you to stop what you're doing, call in sick to work and have yourself a little marathon. You might need to take a couple of days to catch all of it, so make up a good excuse.) Then they went and hosted the Golden Globes. Twice! Be still my heart. These funny ladies can do it all. They write, they act, they are positive role models. And they do it without tearing others down, but by working hard to be the best. If they're ever looking for a third to turn their duo into a trio, I'm on board to party.

By the way, I recognize that Tina and Amy are two completely separate women, and I crush on each respectively. But here's the deal... Remember how Captain Planet generate when everyone's powers combined? Well, I'm pretty sure there's some similar kind of magic formed from the Tina-Amy Effect.

Oh, what the heck, let's watch another clip of their combined genius.

Emma Thompson
Another multi-talented powerhouse packed into one witty and gorgeous package, Emma Thompson, in my mind, is the epitome of perfection and class. While I've always enjoyed her work, I became completely smitten with her when I watched Sense and Sensibility with the audio commentary. She had me charmed from the moment the opening Columbia Pictures flashed on the screen. She made a joke about how badly her arm hurt filming that clip, and how she kept the pashmina, because it was so comfy.

It's no secret I've always wished I was British. If I was, I'd want to be like her.

I think Queen Bey can explain this best herself. This:

Any questions?

Mindy Kaling
I'm about 90 percent sure Mindy is my spirit animal. I'm in such awe about everything she's done as a writer and actress. And she does it all while dealing with the issues, insecurities and wishes I'm constantly dealing with.

I also credit her with helping me start my workout routine. In her memoir and on The Mindy Project, she uses fantasies to motivate herself to do cardio. I gave that the old college try, and I've been able to drag my ass to the gym three to six times a week ever since so I can give my body and overactive imagination a workout.

Jennifer Lawrence
I can't even explain why I love her. She's just so impossibly adorable and fun not to like. I guess I'm also in awe by how grounded she seems after the massive success she's had the past few years and at such a young age.

And like me, she's a klutz. But unlike me, she handles it with a hilarious grace I only wish I could emulate.

Honorable Mentions
I have nothing but love for each of these ladies, but ultimately I get exhausted explaining more than five points at a time.
Yeah... The Oscars get me. So do memes and lipsynch battles.

Do you have any girl crushes? Spill the details!

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May 16, 2014

2014 summer reads (part ii)

Welcome back for the second installment of the top 10 books on my 2014 summer reading list. (Take a look at the first five here.) I've already put in requests to the library and stocked up my Nook/Kindle, so I better take this whole reading thing a little more seriously.

My 2014 Summer Reading List (Part II)

Zoey & the Moment of Zen by Cat Lavoie
The sophomore novel from my Marching Ink labelmate, I've had this in my to-read pile since it was released. I'm such a bad labelmate. The premise for this novel sounds delightful, and I loved her first book, so basically... I need to get my life, and reading list, together.
When coffee shop owner Zoey Everwood takes her obsession with ex-boyfriend Braden too far, everyone—except Zoey—is convinced a bit of fun in the sun at the Moment of Zen Wellness Resort will help her get over him once and for all.  
But Zoey's relaxing vacation turns out to be anything but peaceful when she meets Shane Lawson, a resort guest who bears a striking resemblance to Braden. And things get even more complicated when the resort's owner starts spilling secrets about Zoey’s aunt Nessa, the woman who raised her. Add a snarky Wellness Coordinator and Nate Holmes—Shane's grumpy friend—to the mix, and you've got the recipe for a perfect tropical storm. 
When Zoey comes back home with a new husband instead of tacky souvenirs, she must convince everyone she hasn't completely lost her mind. As Zoey and Shane struggle to keep the magic alive outside the resort, Zoey discovers that she isn't the only one having trouble letting go of the past. And when Nate drops a bombshell that changes everything, Zoey must decide if the old saying is true—what happens at the Moment of Zen stays at the Moment of Zen.

Definitely, Maybe in Love by Ophelia London
If I enjoy this story half as much as I've liked getting to know its author, I'll be quite pleased indeed. I'm not too worried, though. I love the premise -- it's inspired by Pride and Prejudice! I love the cover -- beautiful people kissing under an umbrella! And I love that it's a new adult addition to my list! I guess you could say, I'm already half in love with Definitely, Maybe in Love.
Spring Honeycutt wants two things: to ace her sustainable living thesis and to save the environment. Both seem hopelessly unobtainable until her college professor suggests that with a new angle, her paper could be published. Spring swears she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. 
"Whatever it takes," however, means forming a partnership with the very hot, very privileged, very conceited Henry Knightly. 
Henry is Spring's only hope at publication, but he's also the über-rich son of a land developer and cash-strapped Spring’s polar opposite—though she can't help being attracted to the way he pushes her buttons, both politically and physically. Spring finds there's more to Henry than his old money and argyle sweaters…but can she drop the loud-and-proud act long enough to let him in? Suddenly, choosing between what she wants and what she needs puts Spring at odds with everything she believes in. 
Definitely, Maybe in Love is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice that proves true love is worth risking a little pride.

A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March
The latest novel from my publisher/labelmate, I'm looking forward to reading the story about a friendship in dire straights. Not because I'm depressed, or anything, but it sounds like a unique premise. Usually the main relationship of focus in a book is romantic (which I'm a huge fan of), but this will be different in the best possible way. Samantha's stories also keep getting better and better, so this should be good!
Brynne Ropert and Portland Dolish have been best friends since being paired as roommates in college. Seven years later they are now twenty-five, married, and living in Maine–– but the two women couldn’t be more different. Brynne finds fulfillment in her life as a wife, mother and owner of a small café and bookshop, but is struggling to expand her family. Portland is still coping with her mother’s death during her childhood, and her marriage is unraveling before her eyes. Portland envies her friend’s seemingly stable and easy life while Brynne doesn’t understand the growing distance between them and cannot begin to guess what secret Portland is hiding about her husband and crumbling marriage. While one woman feels shut out, the other enters into a web of lies to protect herself.  
A Questionable Friendship explores what really makes someone a true friend, a support system, a sister. How much trust goes into a friendship and when is being a friend not enough? Brynne and Portland’s story will attempt to answer those questions, and show that happily ever after isn’t in the cards for everyone.

The Last Single Girl by Caitie Quinn
I just really like the premise of this story. And the title. Sometimes I feel like the last single girl in Lincoln, Nebraska, so maybe this tale will make me feel better. Also, this is actually a novella, which means I should be able to find some time to read it, right? (Sidebar: I'm big on using the "time" excuse, yet I hate when others do it. Sigh. I really am a mess.)
One month. 
That's all Sarah has to find a date or earn the honor of being the last single girl in her inner circle. Actually, in all her circles. So with four weeks to find Mr. Right and a frienemy already counting her out, Sarah joins hoping that - just like the perfect purse - the internet can help her find the perfect man. 
The problem is, love isn't always where you think you'll find it and Mr. Right may not be the one with the shiniest profile.

American Honey by Nancy Scrofano
Love the cover. Love the premise. I haven't read anything quite like this before. I mean, I've read reality-inspired stories, but not in the grain of a singing competition, which should be a blast. It's another new adult book, which is a genre I'm interested in exploring more. And I've enjoyed everything I've read by Nancy Scrofano in the past (read my reviews here and here). I'm sure this will be another great book.
After graduating high school, Olivia “Ollie” McKenna leaves her small town roots in Summerville, Georgia, to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer. With her best friend and older sister in tow, wholesome Ollie travels to the big city to compete in singing contest Atlanta Idol. There she meets nineteen-year-old Jack Bradley, a fellow country singer who quickly becomes a close friend. The connection between them is magnetic and an opportunity to sing together could change their lives forever. But what about Ollie's mama's fear of the music business? She's been burned by the lures of the bright lights before and doesn't want Ollie anywhere near that world. And Ollie's growing feelings for Jack as more than just a pal could ruin everything. Despite her own doubts, Ollie is determined to win. Can she make her dream come true or will she return to her hometown empty-handed and brokenhearted?

Honorable Mentions

These get an honorable mention, because I've kind of already read them. But only kind of. I had the privilege of being a beta reader for Isabella and Brea last year, and now I want to take another look to see the finished product.

I'll try to keep you posted on how the reading process goes -- and what other books land on my summer reading list as the season progresses.

Now you know the 12 books at the top of my to-read list -- not to mention the dozens of others to come after -- but I'm curious. What are you reading this summer?

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May 14, 2014

2014 summer reads (part i)

It's mid-May, which means children everywhere are wistfully planning their fast-approaching summer vacations. They're figuring out how many times they'd like to go to the pool or what TV shows they'll catch-up on when it's too hot to play outside. College kids are already out of their dorms and back in their parents' houses setting up camp on the couch for a Netflix marathon (or working a summer job/completing an internship/going on a mission trip if they're the industrious type).

I may be a grown-up now (allegedly), who is exempt from a summer vacation (tragically), but I still like to treat summer as a special time. I still like to make plans. And one of those big plans is coming up with my summer reading list. I've had one every year since I was in elementary school, when they'd actually put one together for you as a challenge.

I've been a bad little reader the past few months, because I've been heavy in writing/editing mode, but as blog as my witness, I will read this summer! Because I've been such a slacker reader, my reading list is embarrassingly long. But here's are five books I can't wait to read by the pool (or sitting in front of a fan next to the air conditioner vent if it comes to that).

My 2014 Summer Reading List (Part I)

The One by Kiera Cass
Having read the first two installments in this trilogy (read my reviews here and here), I'm pretty excited to finish. Fair warning: If America and Prince Maxon don't figure out their shit and get together, I'll be most displeased.
The highly anticipated third book in Kiera Cass's #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series, The One will captivate readers who love dystopian YA fiction and fairy tales. The One is perfect for the fans who have followed America's whirlwind romance since it began—and a swoon-worthy read for teens who have devoured Veronica Roth's Divergent, Ally Condie's Matched, or Lauren Oliver's Delirium.

The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of Illéa, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice ... and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

Lying to Meet You by Anna Garner
I'm a fan of Anna Garner/Libby Mercer's other books -- well, the ones I've read -- and so I excitedly snatched this book up months ago. Now, I need to read it. I love the cover. Love the premise. I'm really looking forward to this.
Chloe Lane is about to find out. When her childhood pal, Ethan Webster, asks her to play the part of his girlfriend in order to test this theory, she reluctantly agrees. As a work-crazed fashion designer, boutique owner and soon-to-be reality show judge, Chloe has no time for a real boyfriend, but being part of a faux pair will do just fine. Not that she has any intention of trying to attract someone else. 
Opportunity unexpectedly knocks when Chloe meets fellow reality judge, William Shannon. Super successful and super sexy, this high-powered entrepreneur inspires Chloe to test Ethan's theory herself. Now, on top of keeping her fashion business productive, carving out a new role as a television personality, maintaining a fake relationship and attempting to lay the groundwork for a future relationship, she's lying to William, lying to her friends, lying to her family and quite possibly lying to herself. Will Chloe be able to keep it all together, or are things about to explode?

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

A failed library check-out from spring, this book comes at the recommendation from one of my best friends. Aside from the appeal of it being adapted for the big screen, he also told me it was well written. He hoped it would inspire my growth as a writer, which I've been fretting about lately. I also hope this will make me smarter.
The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents-including a long-lost account written by the ship's cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.

The Collector by Nora Roberts
Simple reason this book is on my list: It's Nora. Longer answer: These new titles are almost always available on audio book, which means this is a summer "read" I can tackle while crocheting, cleaning, cooking or accomplishing any number of domestic tasks on my to-do list. I'm also digging the premise.
When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one... 
Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession...

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
I'm ashamed to admit I also had this checked out from the library, but had to return it before I even started. Rainbow Rowell is a fellow Nebraska author. She's also a former newspaper columnist, who I had a chance to meet while I was a journalism student. I'd like to read all of her books, which have received lots of acclaim, but I'll start here.
Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?

Check back on Friday for Part II of my summer reading list!

What books are you looking forward to reading this summer?

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May 12, 2014

the ariel effect

Such is life, girlfriend.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the major influence a certain Disney princess has had on my 20s. Belle from Beauty and the Beast dared me to want adventure in the great, wide somewhere. Oh, how I did and do crave that adventure.

If she's my inspiration, than Ariel from The Little Mermaid has been my spirit animal since age 3.

TLM was my movie growing up. I watched it more times than I can remember, and it never lost that magic. I had a mermaid-themed birthday party when I was 4. I named my male stuffed animals and imaginary boyfriends Eric. (I don't even care that he's a character, he's ruined me for men.) I walked around the neighborhood mournfully singing "Part of Your World" (which sometimes turned into a mash-up of "Somewhere Out There," because I didn't have a good grasp on lyrics at this tender age).

It still gets me as an adult. The soundtrack makes regular appearances in my daily musical playlist. The theme music from the end -- which is called "Happy Ending" in case you didn't know -- causes me to instinctively well-up. Every. Single. Time.

I even gave my favorite prince and sea princess shout-outs in my debut novel. In Hard Hats and Doormats TLM is Lexi's go-to comfort movie. Prince Eric is her yard-marker for measuring male perfection, even wishing for a man with a boat. (This may have been a case of art imitating life a little too closely.)

Hey, girl. Wanna hear about my beach-front property and boat?

I love this movie for the fact that it will always remind me of any number of sweet and happy moments from my childhood.

The new, revamped HD version of the movie has been airing on TV a lot. And while I won't sit down to watch the whole thing, I try to catch a few minutes of it -- especially if it's at a favorite part. It's comforting to watch and recite the lines and sing a long. But now that I'm older, this experience feels different. It's not the remastered color and sound, though they're awesome. It's not that I'm watching with a more critical eye. It's that I'm different.

It's the way the song -- my song -- makes me feel.

At 27 years old, as I watch this scene unfold, I heard the song in a completely new light. Rather than being a pretty tune about a girl who wants to explore a new world, it's more. For me, it's about a girl who wants all of that, but she can see it right there, just beyond her grasp. And it's devastating to not be able to follow the dream she can practically taste. It's one thing to dream, it's another to watch it happening, but not be able to do anything about it.

As a grown woman, I better understand what the favorite character from my childhood really wanted: to be part of a world she could almost touch, but couldn't reach.

Every time I check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I see a friend writing when I'm lacking the motivation to open my manuscript. I see someone living somewhere I dream of living. Doing things I want to do. It's all too easy to watch their world and desperately want to join them. In our world of high speed Internet connections, mobile web access and social media -- three things I love -- we watch the world our friends are projecting and can envy them accordingly.

Let's loosen the belts and get honest for a moment. ("But Laura, isn't that what we've been doing all along?" "That's what you'd like to think, bwahahahahaha.")

We all have something we desperately want. Sometimes, we can practically feel it. But we also have something holding us back. For Ariel, it was the whole being a mermaid without legs situation. For others it's insufficient funds or courage or any number of issues. We're all grown-ups now. ("I'm 16 year old! I'm not a child!") We understand we don't always get what we want. But that doesn't make the desire matter any less.

Don't worry, buddy. Everything will work itself out.

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May 9, 2014

my chick lit top five

When I picked up a copy of Bridget Jones's Diary in high school at the advice of a friend, I had no idea I was about to embark on one of the longest relationships of my life: a love affair with chick lit. From then on I explored a series of fabulous world created by the likes of Lisa Jewell, Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella and a long string of talented authors. It's amazing how much fun you can have in more than a decade thanks to these imaginative worlds.

As part of International Chick Lit Month, I'm sharing my five favorite chick lit novels. While I could play the mom card (And say something like "I don't have a favorite. I love all chick lit equally!"), who are we kidding? We all have our go-to favorites, right? That's not to say I don't like the others lots. I even love them. But... well, you know.

1. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
The Gist: Meet Emma Corrigan, a young woman with a huge heart, an irrepressible spirit, and a few little secrets: " Secrets from her boyfriend: "I've always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbie and Ken." Secrets from her mother: "I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur." Secrets she wouldn't share with anyone in the world: "I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is. Until she spills them all to a handsome stranger on a plane. At least, she thought he was a stranger....Until Emma comes face-to-face with Jack Harper, the company's elusive CEO, a man who knows every single humiliating detail about her... 
Why I'm mad for it: Sophie Kinsella rarely disappoints when it comes to writing funny books featuring equally quirky and lovely characters. While I'd adored the Shopaholic series, this was the first of her books that I was obsessed with for days, weeks, months... after reading. There's something appealing about the fantasy of an undercover hot boss of sorts falling for you, because he likes you for who you are, not the person you pretend to be to the whole world. Also, out of all the Kinsella heroines, Emma is the one I most related with, because she was trying so hard to be a "better" person, even though she was perfectly fine without finishing boring book club reads or impossible workout schedules.

2. Daydreamer by Brea Brown
The Gist: Libby Foster prefers her fantasy life to her real life... until she starts to get the two confused, thanks to the new enigmatic architect at her workplace. While she tries to figure out the difference between fact and fiction of her own making, she discovers there's a whole real world out there waiting for her to live it. 
Why I'm mad for it: As I wrote in my review, "This book was a complete win from start to finish for me. Fifteen minutes in, my face hurt from smiling and there were countless laugh out loud moments. At the same time, it evoked other emotions ranging from sadness, sympathy, embarrassment, anger and total happiness. I'm channeling my inner Chris Traeger (that's a Parks and Rec reference for those of you who don't know, which makes me sad) when I say I literally laughed and cried as I devoured this book... Everything from the character development to the pacing worked in this book worked. I was in awe of how spectacular this read turned out to be, and can recall few times I've been this gripped with a story."

3. In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister
The Gist: Lending a sympathetic ear and dispensing sage words of advice is all part of the job for psychologist Pilar Alvarez, and she’s everything a good therapist should be: warm, compassionate, supportive. She listens, she cares, and she has all the answers, but how’s the woman everyone turns to in their hour of need supposed to cope when her own life starts to fall apart?  
While working hard to make a success of her recently-opened practice in trendy South Beach, Pilar must also find time to cater to the demands of her boisterous Cuban family, which includes younger sister Izzy, an unemployed, navel-pierced wild child who can't stay out of trouble, and their mother, a beauty queen turned drama queen who’s equally obsessed with her fading looks and getting Pilar married before it’s “too late.” Although she’d like to oblige her mother and make a permanent love connection, Pilar’s romantic prospects look grim. Her cheating ex, who swears that he’s reformed, is stalking her. A hunky, but strictly off-limits, patient with bad-boy appeal and intimacy issues is making passes. And the sexy shrink in the suite across the hall has a gold band on his left ring finger.  
When a series of personal and professional disasters lead Pilar into the arms of one of her unsuitable suitors, she's left shaken, confused, and full of self-doubt. With time running out, she must make sense of her feelings and learn to trust herself again so that she can save her business, her family, and most importantly, her heart. 
Why I'm mad for it: As I said in my review, "In Need of Therapy is a laugh out loud story about a fun and somewhat unconventional leading lady. She is sassy and independent, and I loved her from the get go. Pilar's profession alone sets her apart from others in the chick lit genre. She is a therapist, and that role offers plenty of humor and good natured eye rolling... The supporting cast, from her meddling mother to leech of a little sister, offered additional humor, which kept me entertained. Throw in some juicy (in a good and bad way -- I'm looking at you, Victor) men, and you have a great ensemble to keep the story moving. And it moved fast... And when you all read the book can we talk about Ford? Swoon."

4. Blogger Girl by Meredith Schorr
The Gist: What happens when your high school nemesis becomes the shining star in a universe you pretty much saved? Book blogger Kimberly Long is about to find out. With her blog “Pastel is the New Black" Kim works tirelessly to keep the genre alive, and help squash the claim that “chick lit is dead." Not bad for a woman who by day ekes out a meager living as a pretty, and pretty-much-nameless, legal secretary in a Manhattan law firm. While Kim’s day job holds no passion for her, the handsome (and shaving challenged) associate down the hall is another story. Yet another story is that Hannah Marshak, one of her most hated high school classmates, has now popped onto the chick lit scene with a hot new book that’s turning heads—and pages—a cross the land. It’s also popped into Kim’s inbox—for review. With their ten-year high school reunion drawing near, Kim’s coming close to combustion over the hype about Hannah’s book. And as everyone around her seems to be moving on and up, she begins to question whether being a “blogger girl” makes the grade in her off-line life. 
Why I'm mad for it: As I said in my review, "Meredith Schorr's Blogger Girl was one of my top five favorite reads of 2013. Fun and witty from the first page, I couldn't put this book down until I reached the end. Filled with plenty of "OMG" moments, lots of laughs and even a few feels, this is a book I would highly recommend to lovers of chick lit. Also, as a blogger girl myself (and former book reviewer), I can say Meredith captured the spirit well."

5. I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
The Gist: Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry her ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her “happily ever after” begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill but in the panic that follows, her phone is stolen. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!

Well, perfect except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.

What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls, and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents . . . she soon realizes that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life. 
Why I'm mad for it: As I said in my review: "You know how people say, "I couldn't put it down," when they enjoyed a book? I lived that cliche last night. As a reward to myself for a challenging work week, I ordered I've Got Your Number on my Nook thinking I could read it as a weekend treat. Instead, I read it in one sitting, with a few short restroom breaks. This book will definitely find a place in my permanent collection and my re-read pile. I loved it. I probably throw that phrase out too often with books, but in this case, I sincerely mean it. I have read and adored other stories in the past year, but this one reminded me of why I Kinsella is one of my favorite authors. Even in my least favorite of her books, I always manage to be entertained. But when her stories work, it is Brit chick lit gold."

Well now that I've kissed and told, how about you? What are your favorite chick lit reads?

Wait, there's more! You can pick up these great chick lit books for only 99 cents this week!!!

About Hard Hats and Doormats

Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion––because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

Buy the Book
Marching Ink

About "Twelve Drummers Drumming" in Merry & Bright
Newlyweds Tuck and Autumn take a much needed Christmas holiday to Breckenridge, but everything isn't exactly what it seems.

Sip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

Buy the Anthology
Barnes & Noble

About "Oh Baby" in A Kind of Mad Courage
Rocker Tuck and new wife Autumn return from Chapman’s “Ten Drummers Drumming” (Merry & Bright), now with a baby on the way.

Nineteen authors from around the world were given six weeks or less to produce “a story involving a mother somehow.” The result is a gorgeously eclectic collection of tales that will make you laugh, cry, and truly appreciate the “mad courage” of motherhood.

Buy the Anthology

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May 5, 2014

happy international chick lit month!

May is finally here! The weather's warming up, your cute new bathing suit's all ready to go, and you've got the kitchen stocked with fixins for your favorite fruity cocktails. The only thing missing is the perfect book to read while you're soaking up some Vitamin D at the beach or pool.

Good thing May is also International Chick Lit Month! To celebrate, some of the genre's funniest and most talented authors are offering their lighthearted, romantic reads for $0.99 each!

So, load up your eReader and slather on the sunscreen, because your new book boyfriends are waiting for you under the umbrella ...

A Heat of the Moment Thing by Maggie Le Page
A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March
Blogger Girl by Meredith Schorr
Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie
Dangled Carat by Hilary Grossman
Divine Moves by Ellyn Oaksmith
Exactly Where They'd Fall by Laura Rae Amos
For the Love of Cupcakes by Anita Kushwaha
French Twist by Glynis Astie
Good Intentions by Kathryn Biel
Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman
Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda
In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister
Let's Be Frank by Brea Brown
Lila's Choice by Laura Brown
Mail-Order Groom by Cindy Flores Martinez
Mr Right and Other Mongrels by Monique McDonell
Open My Eyes by Jennifer Collin
Reframing Emma by Missy Kierstead
Speaking of Love by Ophelia London
Tear Stained Beaches by Courtney Giardina
The Accidental Prophetess by Michelle Lam
The Bad Girls' Club by Kathryn O'Halloran
Whiskey and Gumdrops by Jean Oram

Add these books to your own Pinterest board.

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