When the Sequel Actually Lives Up to the First:Lullaby Road – Book Review


Sometimes people come down this road and end up out here and find what they’re looking for, even if it’s not here.

lullaby RoadRemember when I reviewed James Anderson‘s The Never-Open Desert Diner and I was completely taken with it? Well, Anderson’s second book was ANYTHING but a sophomore slump. In fact, I may have liked the sequel Lullaby Road even better. Or at least just as much.

This is especially important to note, as I normally avoid sequels and book series like the plague. I tend to think that an author should be able to write a novel that can stand alone, without books before or after it. With Lullaby Road, however, I don’t think you have to read its predecessor to enjoy it. Anderson drops enough plot details to clue you in, or remind you, of the connections from the last story, but the narrative stands perfectly independent. Maybe you met protagonist Ben in the last book. Maybe you met him today. Whichever story he tells you, it will capture your attention.

There is something about the way Anderson writes that comforts and keeps me.  He is talented at crafting prose, yes. But there’s more to it. Ben’s voice is one I could listen to forever. I couldn’t be further from being able to personally connect with the world or the characters, yet I love these books more than I could ever love any “women’s fiction.” (But that’s a rant for another time.)

I can’t wait to see more from James Anderson.  Thank you for putting all your talent into the second book, as you did with the first.


Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Sadly, BFB is closing up shop this month. This is my last BFB review



In Celebration of Gail Giler

Dear Gail,

There is no training in life to prepare you to find someone you love as the subject of an article about the victim of a “deadly house fire.” You are simply left to battle the denial, impossibility, and the understanding that nothing is okay in this world anymore. In fact, I still don’t fully believe I am writing this.

On Thursday night, the entire world lost something precious. For everywhere you went, Gail, you made a lasting positive impact. You are everything good about Southern Hospitality: your charm, your drawl, your unceasingly open arms, and your extreme generosity. And I would be hard-pressed not to mention your bless-your-heart-sass.

One afternoon, back when you and John lived next door to our family, you rang our bell wearing a brand new dress. You came to our threshold unannounced for one reason only that day: you wanted to show off your cute new outfit. I remember staring up at you thinking, this is what I want in the world – to be someone who knocks on a door to share something good and who encourages those around her to do the same. You taught me what it means to be a neighbor.

But “neighbor” doesn’t do you justice. I have never had the blessing of a big extended family. So when Kieran invited his many aunts, uncles, and cousins to our wedding, I invited my one aunt in this country and the people who were my stand-in family. You and John are my aunt and uncle – there is no doubt about that.

Who else would gift us their timeshare so we could go on a free honeymoon to Texas? Only family. Who else would share food from their garden and return Tupperware only if it was filled again with food? Only family. Who else would send us ornaments for our tree, aprons for our kitchen, and countless things back from their travels? Only family. Who watches children grow up and marvels lovingly at their metamorphosis? Who is there in front of the church to greet you as you enter in your wedding dress? Family, of course.

I can’t believe you are gone because I never thought you could be. You were the very definition of the word “alive.”

Maybe God needed you with Him. I can promise you one thing: like an angel from heaven, you brought good into this world even as you left it, Gail. On Friday night, the day we all found out, my entire family gathered together to just be with each other. That alone is a feat. Because of you, I made a friend at work who didn’t shy away from the hysterically crying stranger at the table. He talked to me about you. Later on, when I thanked him for his goodness, the kind of goodness you would have given, he teared up while saying he couldn’t stop thinking about you and the husband you left behind. My coworkers shined their light on me all day, and even got me to have a couple drinks before sending me home. You always know how to bring out the best in people, and I KNOW you would have approved of the drinks.

I cried myself to sleep that night, aching to my core for your wonderful husband who has to sleep alone. I hugged my own husband so tight. This is unfathomable, unacceptable, and the word “loss” doesn’t do it justice. You were supposed to come back and visit like you always do. You were supposed to do so much.

Please watch over us. And while you’re at it, go find my Uncle Chuck. You’ll crack him up.



Building a Foundation in 2018

Hi all! Let’s pretend I wrote this last year and had it all queued up for the beginning of January. Great, now that that’s out of the way…

My word for 2017 was SteadfastI wanted to be steadfast in my faith and calmer as I went through the wedding planning. I would say I was relatively successful. But to be honest, I think this year’s theme will be much more actionable.

In 2018, I am building a foundation.


The idea for using FOUNDATION as my word started with my reading goal. I am going to try (again) for 40 books this year, but with a new twist. At least twenty of these books will be the classics. From there, I saw a possible theme. Just as the classic novels paved the way for each era of literature, my actions in 2018 will be the  cornerstone of the rest of my life.

As you probably know, I got married in September. Now that we have settled in and the wedding is wrapped up, I can focus on building a life with Kieran. In 2018, I will ask myself – what can I do before we start our family? What can we do before there are babies? Or before my belly is suddenly the size of a watermelon?

Part of this foundation is adventuring – weekend trips, seeing Ireland, et cetera. Part of this year will be focusing on organizing our home, finances, and traditions. Each thing excites me infinitely. I want to be intentional about the habits we build as a couple, so that when we do start a family, our children come into a loving, calm, and happy home.

I have started using the Commit30 planner, which I think will be an endlessly useful tool as I map out my goals. It lets me choose mini goals for each aspect of my life, as well as inserting those goals into each month. I’ll dedicate every month to a particular project so that weekly I can tick things off my list.

Voila! That’s my 2018. What’s yours? Do you have a word for this year? Let me know in the comments below!

My 38 Book Journey in 2017 – Answers to your Questions & Stats

My Goodreads goal for 2017 was to read 40 books. Unfortunately, since I kinda sorta planned a wedding last year, I was a tad distracted. But I went into crazy overdrive the last week of the year, and got to 38. So, since that’s 95%, I am still an A student. I am okay with this. I promise, my wedding was A+.

First, let’s take a look at some fun stats:




I asked my friends and family to ask me questions about my Goodreads challenge. Here are my answers! Thanks to everyone who participated!

Was there a setting in any of the books you could see yourself living in? (Katie)
The setting of Radio Girls was 1920s, England, at the beginnings of the BBC. I would have LOVED to be working in that building buzzing with so much activity and the newness of radio. I’d probably be in over my head, but it just sounds so exciting and lively. I’d spend each day marveling at how lucky I was to just BE there.
What one book would you recommend above all others? Did reading it change you, or your views? How so? (Melaney)
Not to sound like everyone ever in the past century, but everyone should check out How To Win Friends and Influence People. It surprised me because all this time, I didn’t really know what it was about. It turned out to be a lot more be-good-to-people-centric than I thought. It gives you clear lessons on how to better communicate with other people, especially when you’d rather throw them out the window. Plus, it’s funny and easy to read. It definitely changed how I think about approaching sticky situations with everyone I come into contact with.
Which book did you have the most expectations for? Did it live up to what you expected? (Kieran)
Oh, Artemis. When I read The Martian, by Andy Weir, it immediately became one of my top five favorite books. I pre-ordered Artemis, thrilled to have the same emotional, smart, and heart-in-throat experience again. I was super disappointed. While Artemis was just as smart, it definitely represents a sophomore slump. Weir hasn’t quite figured out how to write women yet, and the main character is a woman. The plot was not nearly as edge-of-your-seat suspenseful.  I am holding out hope that his next novel will bring Andy Weir back to my favorites list.
Which character did you hate the most? (Katie)
Hate is a strong word. I don’t think I hated her. But disappointment can be worse. Jazz, the main character in Artemis, well, she had huge shoes to fill. Mark, the protagonist of The Martian, became my best friend throughout the whole read. Jazz meanwhile, has dubious morals, is basically written as a man pretending to be a woman (see above answer), and isn’t all that likable. It should be known that I have a REALLY hard time liking books where the main character isn’t an upstanding citizen. Sorry Jazz, but Mark Watney was way cooler.
What was your criteria for book selection? (Christian)
Well, it was really whatever I felt like at the moment I needed a new book. People always ask me, when I mention a reading goal, if I have all the books lined up. I really don’t. I pick my books based on what I am craving. I have all kinds of books stored on my Kindle, plus my Goodreads to-read list is insane. I use those and my physical bookshelf as guidance.
Of course, my company does a book club so a lot of those books were not chosen by me at all!
What constitutes a book? (Christian)
Ha! Christian, my brother, and I spoke about this at about the 48 hour mark at the end of 2017, when the challenge was looking dire. I would not count a children’s book, unless it was Alice in Wonderland or something else that could be considered literary. But even then the length would have to be relatively decent. Books of poetry certainly count, as do books of short stories. I suppose if I don’t feel accomplished just by finishing it, then it shouldn’t really count as a book.
Was there an intentional mix of styles, types, genres, etc…? (Christian)
I try to balance out my nonfiction with lighter fiction, alternating between the two.  I tend to feel genre fatigue if I stick to the same kind too long. I also have a fear of books that are too similar running together, so that helps me naturally mix things up. It really is about what I am in the mood for.
Did you discover anything about yourself through the books you chose or the journey itself? (Christian)
I realized that I really love picking up a book without any idea what it’s about. this accidentally happened a few times this year because of how I have been building my Kindle collection in recent years. I read the Bookbub newsletter every day, and I always mark down books that seem interesting to me in Goodreads. But sometimes, when I am feeling particularly crazy, I go ahead and buy it right away. (They are all discounted, relax.) But then I don’t pick up said bought book till months later when I totally forgot why I thought  it sounded good. So I end up just reading it and enjoying it for what it is, without re-reading the synopsis. The surprises are always delightful, and there’s no expectation to shatter.
Did this [challenge] take the fun out of reading or make it a great competition?  (Christian)
 Generally, no, it did not take the fun out of it. It’s exciting for me to have a goal like this. The only time I think it took the fun out of it was trying to read 5 books in a matter of days to hit the goal at the end of the year. I sped through books and didn’t really get to enjoy them. But seeing as I won’t be planning a wedding ever again, I don’t foresee any more such issues with hitting my goal. (Yes, when I have children, I will lower my reading goal to like…5.)
That’s all, folks! I have already started on my 2018 goal (40 books, for real this time!). At least 20 of these books will be the classics. I realized, to fit into my larger 2018 word Foundation (post coming soon), reading the classics would be a great way to mix up my Goodreads challenge this year. Book #1? The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
PS – Read my official review of The Inkblots hereThe Tea Planter’s Wife here, and Colored Pencil Painting Portraits here.

PPS -Want to waste more time at work? Then read my yearly book posts for 2016 and 2015! Yawelcome.

Book Review – 5 Stars forColored Pencil Painting Portraits


…tracing of the reference itself contributes to the final artwork about as much as a chalk outline does to solving a murder.


Consider this: You’re in college and you sign up for class for what you believe is Drawing 101. Your first day, you walk in and it only takes a minute before you realize this class is the capstone for an art major. Oops. But you’re already in love with your professor. She is funny, smart, and knows her stuff! She is patient, kind, and you sort of want her to adopt you. So you go to your advisor, change the class to pass/fail, and spend the rest of your semester barely following along, but learning more than any of your friends will ever know.


colored pencil painting portraitsThis was my experience in receiving Colored Pencil Painting Portraits I picked it thinking I could learn to draw with a medium I had at hand. One page into the book, I metaphorically took my Crayola pencils and -dreaded- cotton-based paper and threw them all out the window. Welp, I was in over my head. I can’t draw and this woman was talking about FIXATIVE and SOLVENT and PAPER TEXTURES. What?!


But I kept reading. One, because I promised myself I’d finish 40 books this year (post coming soon!) and two, because I got this book in exchange for a review.


Aloyna Nickelsen makes this book her labor of love. She takes her expertise and shares it in a charming and thorough way. She has researched science, oil painting, and photography so that she could bring colored pencils into the world of fine art. And so she does!


All the time, she is funny and authentic. Her background as a spiritual person who left a Communist country for a better life is present in her off-handed comments peppered throughout her writing. This is not a woman obsessed with one thing only – she is living a full, beautiful life, and colored pencils are her chosen mastered skill and life’s work. Have I mentioned I wish I could meet her?


Overall, if you’re an artist – of ANY kind – read this book. She taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about art in general. I am sure I will in turn have a light bulb moment at some point in my life based on the knowledge she gave me. And if you do want to be a colored pencil artist, then you MUST get to know this and her other works. She is truly the master of her craft. Though I will never be painting portraits of anyone, with any medium, she made me want to go outside under my proverbial window, pick up my Crayola, and start to create. Even if it looks like the work of a three-year-old.


 I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.