4 of my favorite books I’ve read this year (so far)

4 books to read

This year, I set out to read 100 books. We are now almost 1/4 of the way through the year, and I’ve just reached the quarter mark of my reading goal with 25 books. To celebrate, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books I’ve read this year. At the end, I’ll share some of my secrets for reading fast. Also, I’d love if you commented with some of your favorite books you’ve read because I’m always looking for recommendations!

Note: These are affiliate links, which means I get a small kickback at no extra cost to you when you purchase through them. The recommendations are purely my own, based on my own reading experience.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison

midwifeBecause I’m currently working on a dystopian novel, I’ve been adding more of this genre to my reading list. This book surprised me at how much I loved it, and it tops my list for a reason. Meg Ellison is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, which is exciting to me since I live in the North Bay (hey neighbor!). This was also her first book, a fact that’s almost unbelievable when you begin reading this book. Elison’s way of rounding out her characters is incredible, and her description places you right there in the story.

The premise of the book is that a disease has swept over the earth, killing almost anyone, especially women. The women who do survive find they’re unable to get have children, as they and/or their infant dies during childbirth. Women are also such a rarity that those who have survived death are in danger of enslavement by predator men.

The main character is a female in this world, but she takes on the persona of a man to keep herself safe. The way Elison changes this character’s identity is seamless and artful. With an inexperienced author, it could have come off as confusing, but not so with Elison. The author addresses gender roles, sexuality, morality, and the different ways people cope in the fall of society in this story, and does so with grace and utter believability.

This was one of the first books I read this year, and it’s still stuck with me. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I enjoyed the second book (The Book of Etta) just as much. The third book is due to publish in April.

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson

jacobThis is an oldie from my childhood that I sat down with one day when I wasn’t feeling well and needed a book that felt kind of like a blanket. This was absolutely my book blanket. In fact, my husband walked in on me when I was almost to the end and caught me with a tear-streaked face and a sob in my throat. I pretty much cried the whole last half of the book, but it was that really good kind of cry that only a great book can produce.

The story follows Louise, a tomboy girl growing up in 1940s Chesapeake Bay, and the twin sister of beautiful Caroline, a girl as fair and delicate as much as Louise is dark and strong. As time goes on, we see Louise struggle with her identity, feeling held back because of the person she is compared to her sister. The story will resonate with anyone who struggles with jealousy or frustration, especially those who grew up with these feelings. It’s a middle grade to young adult book, but don’t let that fool you. The writing is beautiful, and it still stands strong almost 40 years after it was published.

5,331 Miles, by Willow Aster

5331milesI discovered Willow Aster because she teamed up with Tarryn Fisher (one of my favorite authors and human beings) to write the End of Men series, a steamy dystopian romance that will have you fanning yourself as you turn the pages.

5,331 Miles is much more innocent then the End of Men series, but no less incredible. It’s the endearing love story of Jaxson and Mirabelle, two English kids who grew up together and move to the US at separate times, and who also keep missing their chance at love. The characters are flawed and completely human, making mistake after mistake, and still remaining likeable. And the love scenes? Touching and beautiful. This one left me with a smile on my face.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen

moonSarah Addison Allen is tiptoeing her way into my favorite author slot. Her books have a hint of magic wrapped up in sweet character-driven stories, and her writing is beautifully descriptive, and just as magic as the storyline. This latest book was one I never wanted to end, and yet I couldn’t stop reading until it was done. It’s the story of Emily, a girl who goes to live with her grandfather after her mother dies, and discovers this quirky little town where her mother grew up….and that the noble, altruistic mother she grew up knowing was not the same girl the town knew. Emily finds herself living under the shadow of her mother’s mean girl persona as a teen, and she pays socially for her mother’s mistakes as the town turns their noses up at her. However, Emily also meets a few people who are willing to look past her mother’s mistakes and see the true person this girl really is.

As for the magic, it’s honestly just a sprinkling—which is what I love about Allen’s writing. She doesn’t try to overexplain it or even make it a huge part of the story, but offers just a taste of something mystical that enhances the sweet flavor of the story. I just finished the book last night, and it still lingering with me.

HOW I READ FAST

To read 25 books in three months, it takes a bit of strategy. First off, I read every day, mostly at night before I go to bed. This works because I don’t watch a ton of TV (though I do watch American Idol, and was seriously getting irritated that there were TWO two-hour episodes every week. So. Much. TV.). But the kind of books I read matters, too. First off, I do not pad my numbers with novellas, though I’m not opposed to the occasional short read. So far, all of the books I’ve read have been full-length novels. However, length does matter. There’s one book I’m reading that proved to be much longer than I anticipated, and I had to put it down because it was clogging up my progress. Now that I’m ahead of schedule, I plan to pick it up again.

I also pay attention to those genres I read faster than others. My favorite genres are dystopian or end-of-the-world books, magical realism, and romance. That last genre I read the fastest for several reasons. First, I really, really love a good falling in love story, and even better when paired with a bit of steaminess. Second, the writing in standard romance novels isn’t that dense, allowing the reader to breeze through the story without chewing on the words. Yes, I really love reading books with exquisite descriptions and incredible world building (Barbara Kingsolver is my queen). But sometimes I just want a book that serves as an escape. So when my book number is lagging, I reach for chick lit, romance, or any other kind of book that I know I can read in a day or two.

Finally, I make sure I read at least 8 books a month, and strive to read more (since 8×12=96). Once I reach that magic 8 number, I pick up any book I want, even the long ones, and keep on reading.

All right, your turn. What are some of your favorite books you’ve read? Go!

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Quit or continue: What to do if you don’t like the book you’re reading

so many books

At the beginning of this month, I joined thousands of readers to read Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick of the month. From what I could tell, Reese chooses a lot of fun novels that her reader fans love reading together. I thought it would be fun to turn my passion for reading into one that includes community, so I bought the February pick and started reading. It started out well enough, introducing all the characters and presenting a few issues that would become the theme of the book. But when I reached the middle of the book, I realized it wasn’t going to get any better. The conversations were too cute. The issues all felt fabricated. And it seemed like the author was just throwing things in to give the story diversity, but still lacked originality or depth. I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, since a glance at the comments on Reese’s Instagram revealed a lot of the same issues I was having with this book.

I felt cheated. I really wanted to read a book I could discuss with others who felt the same kind of passion I did. But more than that, I’m on a mission to read 100 books this year. This book had already taken 4 days of my reading time, and I was only 50% of the way through. To read 100 books in a year, my average reading time needs to be 3 days per book (I said “average.” Some books I breeze through—*hello, romance*—so that I have time to savor deeper stories). I was in a conundrum. If I finished this book, I would use up more of my precious reading time on a book I didn’t love. If I put it down and started over, that was 4 reading days wasted on a book I couldn’t count toward my goal.

Side note: I’m not naming the book, even though a quick search will tell you what book it is. My feelings are my own, and I don’t want to include my thoughts on this book to an internet search of the book. I recognize the hard work of any author who writes a book, regardless of whether I liked it or not. Her traditional publisher thought this book was good enough to be published and promoted. I am just the voice of one reader, and there are plenty of readers who felt differently and love the book.

I put this dilemma out there to those who follow me on Facebook and Instagram, and here’s what some people said:

  • I used to always finish every book I started, but there are so many books I want to read and so little time to do it in.
  • Stop reading it for a while, go back, read a chapter. If I can get that far, it is very difficult to stop. Each circumstance or book is unique.
  • Sad to say I quit. It’s tough to continue something that isn’t grasping your attention.
  • I used to keep going. These days I am just too busy to spend my life on something that I don’t find beneficial. I mean, if I don’t have another book at hand, I keep going though, because reading.
  • Life is too short and there are too many books to waste another minute!
  • I very rarely quit. Sometimes it pays off at the end and sometimes I’m just glad it’s over.
  • Far too many GREAT books to struggle through weak ones.
  • I actually POSTPONE. Sometimes, a really great book just needs a particular mindset and I may not have it when I first read it. I’ve had a number of books that I just couldn’t get into when I first attempted and weeks/months/years later have picked up and thoroughly enjoyed. There are, of course, others that I just couldn’t stand so I simply stopped.
  • In the same boat and still I keep going even though I am not remembering or even caring about what I’m reading. It’s all about powering thru.
  • I started skimming it, reading a sentence here and there to get the flavor of the story or topic.

As you can see, most of these commenters think you should quit if a book isn’t grasping you the way you should. In the end, I powered through the book to reach the end. My feelings over my reading investment overruled my desire to give up on the book. I felt slightly better having reached the conclusion, though no less frustrated with the lacking depth of the story.

However, I have come to the realization that if I truly don’t like a book, the best thing I can do is put it down and start another. Like one person wrote, I can always pick it up later when I’m in the space to read it. Like another person wrote, there are too many great books out there to struggle with one I don’t find that great.

My friend Becky, who blogs for The Page Sage and The Bookworm, advises readers to give books to page 100 to decide whether a book is good or not. If it’s not, put it down and start another. “If you’re not enjoying it, don’t force yourself to finish it,” she says. “Reading is a time to unwind in another world for a while, not a time to suffer through something.”

How about you? What do you do if you don’t enjoy the book you’re reading? And what book would you absolutely recommend everyone read?

Numbered, a dystopian romance: Meet Noelle & Ryder

My current WIP is Numbered, a dystopian romance, set to release next year (date TBD). While we wait, I thought I’d introduce you to the main characters of this novel.

Everyone, meet Noelle and Ryder.

The year is 2050, and technology has advanced so that people know the exact date of their death and how they’re going to die. In their final 100 days, people give up their jobs, their homes, and everything in their life, say goodbye to their families, and then enter a facility where everything is taken care of for them, spending the last three months of their life in complete comfort with no worries at all.

Noelle is in her 30s, completely healthy, but knows she’s going to die of a heart attack. It’s why she’s spent every day eating healthy and exercising, trying to reverse the end fate has handed her. It’s also why she refuses to get close to anyone. She’s spent her life as a loner, and is ready to spend her last 100 days alone at River’s End.

Ryder has been battling a debilitating sickness for the past decade, but that’s not what haunts him. He’s been let down by every parent figure in his life, and has learned he’s on his own. This becomes even more true when he uncovers a secret just days before coming to River’s End.

Noelle and Ryder come to the facility on Day 100, destined to die on the same day, and determined to remain distant from everyone until the end. But when secrets come to the surface and past lies become truth, their only solace is knowing they have each other.

My writing goals for 2019

What are my writing goals for 2019?

First, let me share this year’s goals. It was NOT so much to write, but to rest, reset, and learn. I think I’ve done a killer job doing that. One of the ways I’ve done that is by reading A LOT. I’ve read across genres, good writing, bad writing, absolutely breathtaking writing. And with each book, I’ve learned things I want to do better, ways to make characters more real, how to set a scene, pacing, and so on. If anyone wants to learn how to be a better writer, those lessons are as close as their bookshelf. During this time, and for reasons other than just learning, I made a decision to NOT write. Of course, that lasted until June when a book idea grabbed me by the soul and poured through me. Now I’m close to wrapping up the rough draft, though I’ve put a pause on writing until finals are done.

Now for my next year’s goal. WRITE. I’m taking next semester off school and I plan to get ultra serious about writing and publishing. Break time is over, and my honest goal is to write 3-4 books this next year. I’m super pumped about it, and ready to put to paper all the things I’ve learned from my year of reading. I also plan to be much more proactive than I ever have been about getting my author career off the ground, and that means leading more readers to my books.

If you’re a creator, what are YOUR creative goals for 2019?

Numbered ~ a novel ~ coming soon!

If you follow me on social media (and you should: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), you are already aware that my novel writing hiatus has ended and I’m working on my next book. I realized today that I haven’t actually written that here, which is just awful! So here you go: I’M WRITING ANOTHER BOOK!

I’m really excited about this one, too. Of course, I’m excited about every book I write, but this one just seems to be coming together so wonderfully. Even though I sometimes take a week or so off of writing (which is a terrible thing to do when you’re writing a novel), it all flows through me as soon as I sit behind the computer again.

Here’s a bit about the story (warning, some of these details could change):

Numbered

Numbered_Quote1The year is 2050, and technology has advanced so that people know the exact date of their death and how they’re going to die. In their final 100 days, people give up their jobs, their homes, and everything in their life, say goodbye to their families, and then enter a facility where everything is taken care of for them. They spend the last three months of their life in complete comfort with no worries at all.

Noelle Warren is a 32-year-old woman with 100 days left. She’s spent most of her life as a loner, unwilling to form attachments because of her short life span. She meets Ryder, who arrives on the same day, a 30-something man who is easy to look at…and that’s the only thing easy about him. He won’t talk or even acknowledge anyone’s presence, closing himself off even more than Noelle did in her old life. Being that everyone else on their facility floor is elderly and in different stages of dementia, Noelle’s convinced it’s going to be a long, lonely 100 days. But when Ryder finally does talk, his secret uncovers hidden truths in Noelle’s past – things she never wanted to believe, but now has no choice.

 

Numbered will publish in 2019. In the meantime, stay tuned for more updates!

Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

crown

There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Cheat sheet to Crissi Langwell’s books

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Every now and then, I like to send out a reminder about the different books I’ve written over the years. I’m currently writing my next book (more on that later!), but for now, here are some of the books you may have missed. Click on the links to purchase.

 

BOOKS BY CRISSI LANGWELL

 

Contemporary Fiction:

hope trio_edited-1

The Road to Hope (Hope Series, Book 1)
A chance encounter between two mothers changes the course of their lives in a story that addresses issues of child loss, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and more. This series has mature content.

Hope at the Crossroads (Hope Series, Book 2)
Teen mother Maddie is ready to turn her life around. But when her past intersects with her present life, she has some hard decisions to make…and her choice will change everything.

Hope for the Broken Girl (Hope Series, Book 3)
He promised to take care of her. He promised to be a good father to Hope. He promised she’d have everything she ever wanted. He lied. Maddie’s story concludes with the third book of the Hope series.

(Buy the entire Hope series by clicking here)

Symphony Forever

A Symphony of Cicadas (Forever After, Book 1)
Rachel and her son died in a tragic car accident, weeks before she was to be married. Now she’s in a tug-of-war between life and death, trying to hold on to the man she loves and the life she left behind. (Note: Mature content)

Forever Thirteen (Forever After, Book 2)
13-year-old Joey is stuck in the afterlife, wedged forever at the awkward place between childhood and teenager. But when his best friend’s grief turns dangerous, Joey realizes he has a purpose worth dying for.

Cupcake Release Tease

Come Here, Cupcake (Dessert for Dinner, Book 1)
Morgan Truly discovers she has a knack for baking. What she doesn’t know is that her talent with sweets comes with a sprinkle of magic.

Young Adult:

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Loving the Wind
Take a trip to Neverland with the island’s princess, Tiger Lily, as she fights to be seen as the warrior she was born to be.

Non-Fiction:

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Reclaim Your Creative Soul
The secrets to making room for your craft, even if you live a full-time life.

More coming soon. Stay tuned!

Sneak peek at Hope for the Broken Girl, releasing Feb. 5

DEMO underwater girl.jpg5 more days! Hope for the Broken Girl releases Feb. 5, and completes the Hope series trilogy with the rest of Maddie and Hope’s story. Are you as excited as I am???

Just a warning, this series deals with some heavy topics, including domestic violence. This is not a G-rated book. Read more about the book here.

Also, here’s a super secret hint: The Road to Hope will be FREE for Kindle on Feb. 5. This is a gift from me to you to celebrate the series’ completion! If you haven’t read The Road to Hope yet, wait until Monday, and then download it at this link.

Here’s another exciting tidbit: the paperback version of Hope for the Broken Girl is already available on Amazon! If you like paperback books, purchase it today here. Not only that, if you buy a paperback book, the Kindle version is FREE!

That’s a lot of freebies. Want one more? Below is a free sneak peek at the opening pages of Hope for the Broken Girl. Enjoy!

Chapters1Chapter 1: Broken

The engine whines as I turn the key, but refuses to turn over. I pull the keys out and throw them across the dash in frustration. The noise is louder than I expect and I glance in the back seat to see if Hope is still sleeping. She is.

With my phone in hand, I get out of the car, walking over to the passenger side so that I’m not next to the busy highway. The ocean spreads out in front of me in both directions, seeming to take up my whole world. I look down at the phone screen. My sleeves have hiked up my arms, and I pull them down out of habit to hide the bruises.

I don’t know if he’ll answer. He has no reason to answer. I’m afraid he’ll ignore my call. Worse, I’m afraid he’ll answer and give me hell for the way I disappeared. But I had no choice, just like I have no choice now.

His name isn’t on my phone. I’m not that dumb. But I know his number by heart. I touch each digit, pausing with a deep breath before I hit the final one. Then I hold the phone to my ear and wait. He might not answer. He might not pick up the phone because he doesn’t recognize this number. He might…

“Hello?”

I say nothing for a moment, closing my eyes at the sound of his voice. I hadn’t realized how much it would affect me.

“Hello? Anyone there?”

“Jace.” I keep my eyes closed, listening to him breathe in my ear as the coastal wind whips my hair around my face.

“Maddie?”

“Yes, it’s me. I’m sorry it’s so early.”

“Oh my God, how are you? Where are you? Is everything okay?”

“No,” I whisper.

“I can’t hear you. There’s a lot of noise on your end. Are you all right?”

I open my eyes and look out at the ocean. It’s funny how something so large and dangerous can look beautiful and inviting from far away. Right now, it appears like glass under the first rays of the morning sun, despite the wind. It’s deceptive—how could something so monstrous appear this peaceful?

“I need you to find me. I need you to bring me home,” I tell him. He says nothing for a moment, and my doubts flare up, once again. Please don’t let me down.

“Where are you?” he asks.

“I’m not sure. Hold on.” I pull up a map on the phone. “I’ve just passed Crescent City.” I glance down the highway. Cars whip by on the narrow road, and there doesn’t seem to be anything close. “I’m out of gas and can’t go any further.”

He’s quiet, and I know he’s looking up my location.

“Crescent City is more than five hours north from here,” he says.

“I know.” I clench my hand against my jeans, praying he’ll come get me. If he refuses, I don’t know what I’ll do.

“Are you on Highway 101?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, sighing. It’s way out of the way. I should have driven down I-5, but a detour at Grants Pass got me confused. I know I’d be closer to home if I hadn’t gotten turned around. Now, I’m still too close to the Oregon border…too close to danger.

“Okay. There’s a motel called Seaport Inn along the highway. Can you find it and tell me how far you are from it?”

I pull the phone from my ear and punch the name in.

“About three miles,” I tell him.

“Can you walk that far?” he asks. I look in the back seat. Hope’s still asleep in her car seat. I’ll have to leave it behind, along with anything else that’s too heavy to carry with Hope on my hip.

“I’m going to have to,” I tell him. “But bring Kayci’s car seat.”

He tells me he’ll call the motel and reserve a room with two beds, and to just show up and give them my name.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he assures me. He’s quiet for a moment, but I hear him breathing. “Will you be okay?” he finally asks. “Are you in any kind of trouble? Is there anything I should know to prepare myself?”

I don’t know how to answer. I look up to the sky. The cloudless blue is deceiving. The wind stills for a moment, and my breath comes out in small clouds. I pull my jacket closer to my body.

“No,” I lie. “Just hurry.”

___

Hope for the Broken Girl releases Feb. 5, available in both print and eBook. This is the 3rd book of the Hope series. To see all books, visit bit.ly/HopeSeriesKindle.

10 books that will change your life

It doesn’t matter if you make resolutions or not, most of us look at the New Year as a time to change habits, make things new, start over, and hope for a better year. As a book lover, I can’t think of a better way to incorporate these changes than by reading an inspirational book. Here are the books I’ve found to be extremely life-changing:

Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission.” Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, starts off Braving the Wilderness telling her own heart-wrenching story, a tale of childhood most people can relate with. Then she continues, sharing things we are all grappling with in this age of politics, moving fast, polarization, and the desire to belong, and how to move through them. All of Brown’s books are must-reads, and this one is no exception.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
In 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert gave an inspiring TED talk that has captivated millions of creative people, “Your Elusive Creative Genuis.” This talk was about two years after she released “Eat. Pray. Love.,” a memoir that inspired many a divorcee to drop everything and go on a global soul journey. Years later, this TED talk became the tip of the iceberg in her book on creativity, a bible for all aspiring creators called “Big Magic.” In this book, Gilbert shares how to overcome paralyzing fear that can stand between an artist and their art. She shares vital attitudes, approaches and habits that promote living a creative life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
I know this book was on everyone’s bedside table two years ago, but the concepts in this book aren’t any less important. Marie Kondo shares simple ways to create order to your home, purging unnecessary items and making things, well, tidy in surprisingly painless ways. I still KonMari my drawers, thanks to this book.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
A few years back, Gretchen Rubin struggled to find anything happy about her life. In an effort to change her perspective, she dedicated a year of her life to her own happiness project. In this memoir, she shares how she spent a year testing out wisdom and research from different times, cultures and more. The result? She not only changed her life, but she changed the lives of millions of readers.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul, by Crissi Langwell
Yes, this is a shameless plug, but still a book I believe is important for anyone who wants to find more time for their creative projects. In this guide, I share the secrets to how I’ve organized my own busy life to make room for my craft, and how you can, too. Not only that, I include access to meal plans and shopping lists (to save you time in the kitchen), a guide to creating a budget (to free your mind of worry), and a cheat sheet to inspirational quotes that can help you in any situation. It’s my hope that this book will be part of your journey toward a more creative life.

Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden
While serving as Vice President, Joe Biden suffered the devastating loss of his eldest son, Beau, who died from a brain tumor. “Promise me, Dad,” Beau said to his father in his final months. “Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” Biden gave him his word. In his touching memoir, Biden shares an intimate look at his son’s last year of life, and what he learned in the painful process of letting go.

The Wisdom of Sundays, by Oprah Winfrey
If you’re a fan of Super Soul Sundays like I am, this book wraps up some of the best moments from those conversations, and combines them with Oprah’s own spiritual journey. You’ll find some of your favorite moments, including excerpts from talks with Tony Robbins, Arianna Huffington, Shonda Rhimes, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hahn, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and more. This is everything you expect to get from a cozy episode of S.S.S., but now it’s right at your fingertips.

The Desire Map Planner, by Danielle La Porte
While technically this isn’t a book, this is one bound publication that could change the course of your year. Bestselling author Danielle La Porte created a unique engagement calendar that’s anything but your regular daily planner. With sections for gratitude notes, soul prompts and “stop doing” lists, this Desire Map Planner is for those “who want to put their soul on the agenda.” This planner corresponds with an actual book, “The Desire Map,” which, together, you could totally map out a whole new way of living.

Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferris
Most people know Tim Ferris from his best-selling book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or his guide to successful habits in “Tools of the Titan.” Ferris continues the wisdom of his latter book in his latest publication, “Tribe of Mentors,” a collection of wisdom from those he’s looked up to in his life. The book shares everything from morning routines, how to bounce back from failure, the power in risky art, how to have real work-life balance, and more.

When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön
This is not Pema Chödrön’s most recent book, but it’s one that’s touched me profoundly. In this guide, Chödrön, shares the importance of moving towards pain and difficulties as a way of conquering them. If you’ve found yourself stuck in grief, stress, and hard times, this book is a way to open yourself up, transform your suffering, and rediscover joy.

What books have you read that have changed your life?

Book-release hangover is real

Book-release hangover is real. Or maybe I should say vulnerability hangover. I go through it every single time I write or release a book. Writing it, editing it, tweaking it, gathering excitement about it, feeling so proud of it, releasing it to the world.

And then, the hangover.

I released Hope at the Crossroads on Oct. 24. It was a quiet release because my town was on fire. It didn’t feel right to tout something as trivial as a book when so many people lost their homes. So I quietly hit publish, and put it out there to anyone following me on social media. The next day, it was business as usual. I was too busy, too preoccupied, too everything else to worry about what happens next after releasing something I’d poured myself into for the better part of a year.

November came, and NaNoWriMo came with it. In the midst of midterms and prepping for finals, I wrote a book. The book took everything out of me, and now that it’s done, I’ve set it down and plan to forget about it until January.

But now that it’s over, I’ve got the hangover.

Here’s what that looks like. People have bought my book. Oh my God, they’re reading my book. Holy hell, they’re reading it! Do they like it? Does anyone like it? Why haven’t they left a review??? (Refresh.) They still haven’t left a review. Only 20 people bought it. 20. I know more than 20 people. Why did only 20 people buy it? Why aren’t 20 people leaving a review? Have they even read it? Oh God, they didn’t read it. They just bought it to be nice. They don’t even like to read. No one likes to read. Why am I writing if no one likes to read? Why am I even writing? I don’t know how to write. I think I lost the muse. I think I lost my talent. Did I ever have any talent? What is wrong with me???

Here’s how else that looks. I feel spun at all times, and even the smallest thing can send me over the edge. At the same time, I’m restless, and waiting for something to change. I want to do all things. I want to do NONE of the things. I’m having a hard time reading books right now because ALL OF THEM are better than mine. The comparison monster is alive and well, and it’s pouring jealousy all over me. I want to hide in my bed until the holidays are over. I’m frustrated that my books are ignored. I’m glad my books are ignored. I want to take back everything I’ve ever written. I question what I do, what I say, how I look, what I’ve done with my life, where I’m going, that I’m even admitting my crazy instead of being uber positive so you’ll buy my books. I’ve stopped caring. I care way too much.

Does that paint a clear enough picture? I swear, there needs to be a therapist who only deals with artists.

In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson writes, “The ego is like a gravitational force field, built up over eons of fearful thinking, which draws us away from the love in our hearts. The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves.” And oh man, is this true.

I’m battling these feelings of ego and fear, something that happens with every book release, and every time I write a book. Now I’m battling the aftermath of both, and gearing up for another book release, while trying to keep my sanity as I try to get through finals. The book-hangover is real, and I’m gonna need some tomato juice and two aspirin.

Or maybe it’s a hair of the dog thing, and I just need to write another book.