Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.


Bookstagram post from this week. #kidlit 

We reach another weekend and I can’t say I wasn’t ready for this one! Short weeks at work always seem so much longer than a normal five-day. A few things made the week pass a little more quickly.


I caught up on my podcasts. I finally made it through S-Town. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t sure about that one after the first two episodes, but in the end it was a fascinating story about a fascinating person and town in Alabama. This weeks episode of What Should I Read Next? and Popcast were also great listens. The guest on WSIRN, Chelsea Humphrey, was awesome and I loved her list of books she loved and the recommendations she got from Anne.

Here’s what I was reading this week:

On audio-                                               On e-book-

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With the kid-


Here are some great articles that caught my attention this week:

I also picked up a few reads to add to the already towering TBR:

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Happy reading!




CuttingforStoneMy friend and I started our book club to spend time with other friends. A time to talk about our chosen book, yes. But, also, a time to get to know each other and share a bit of our lives. What I didn’t suspect? That I would read a book that, even after three weeks, would stick with me and make me ponder giant truths about life, but also the small things that make up our daily existence.

When we ended our April meeting, someone asked what we might read for May. Shrugging, I asked if anyone had any ideas. One of the women suggested Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Having never heard of it, I was game. Another lady said she’d read it, loved it and would enjoy rereading it.

At that moment, I wasn’t aware just how deeply I would be moved by this book club pick. I don’t cry through many books. There are few. My son, when he was a toddler, would watch in wonder as I would sob-read my way through Love You Forever. He was never sure what to think, but would always pick it for me to read and watch me, not the pictures, as I neared the end. I’m sure there is some psychology interpretation of that. You can add Cutting for Stone to this list now. I was in the car, reading the last 50 pages on our drive home from a soccer tournament. Sob-crying ensued.

Make something beautiful of your life. –Cutting for Stone

What I loved: So much about this book. While the first few chapters left me wondering what I’d gotten myself into, once past a few brutal scenes concerning a birth I began to understand this was going to be an epic. I loved the amazing imagery of Ethiopia. An Ethiopia I never knew with so much nuance. Verghese peels back layers concerning the Ethiopian history, people, culture and politics. I was enamored with this Ethiopia. His evocative sense of place is only second to his character development. While we experience most of the story through Marion Stone, one of the twins born at the beginning of the book, Verghese is able to breathe life into so many different people. From the fiery maternal figure Hema to the troubled Genet to the loveable Ghosh, they all leap off the page. Then there are the twins, so alike and yet so very different. Along with the setting and the characters, Verghese delivers beautiful prose. The kind you get lost in and look up an hour later realizing you aren’t, in fact, in Addis Abba. And, I’ll admit, I was often a bit disappointed there wasn’t a plate on injera and a curry waiting for me.

Life to is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backwards. –Cutting for Stone

Would I recommend? Well, if you haven’t determined this yet, I would. Highly. I will note that there is a lot about medical practice. There are scenes that are tough to read if you play a book like a movie in your head. There are also magical scenes about surgeons and the amazing skill they have. If you’re squeamish, be prepared.

Backlist bonus: As I read this book there was something about it that reminded me of E. M. Forster’s works. Some of A Passage to India. Some of A Room with a View. It had little to do with the plot, but more with the ability to shape place with their words.

MurderLinesWhat’s a girl to do to escape the box created for the women of the 1910’s? Well, Kitty Weeks has decided to be a journalist…or at least what passes for a female journalist in the early 20th century.

Radha Vatsal delivers the second in the Kitty Weeks series, which focuses on a young woman living in New York on the eve of Word War I. Daughter of a former American diplomat father and a mother she lost early in life, Kitty is trying to find her way in the world and she has decided that being a journalist is the way to make her mark on the world. Oh, and she occasionally solves a mystery, much to her father’s chagrin.

Although I didn’t read the first book, the second book didn’t leave me feeling like I’d missed anything crucial and I was still able to enjoy the story in this book. Here’s a quick story recap.

Kitty is on her most recent assignment for the New York Sentinel’s Ladies Page at a private all-girls school, when she meets an extraordinary scientist who also happens to be a female student. So intrigued by the bright mind of Elspeth Bright (how’s that for on-the-nose naming), Kitty asks to interview the young woman when they’re in New York for Christmas break. After only one short meeting, Kitty learns Elspeth has been found dead in Central Park one cold night. Elspeth’s parents and the police chock it up to her somnambulist habits. Kitty, though, isn’t as convinced and begins probing the death of the young girl. Along the way, we learn about Thomas Edison’s efforts to help the US Navy with war looming, the fight of women to earn the right to vote and even get to hear from President Woodrow Wilson.

I want to start with the wonderful use of the word “somnambulist” in this book. My first encounter with this word was an episode of Angel. I had a vague notion of what that meant, but this book drove it home in a delightful way. Just a fun note.

The early 20th century was a frenetic time, with politics, science and all aspects of human life progressing as a crazy pace. Vatsal captures all these aspects with this installment of Kitty’s story. From the science of batteries being developed to help the US Navy run their submarines without killing seaman to the pedestrians of New York trying to figure out how to safely share the roads with the newfangled automobiles, Kitty’s story shows us the amazing developments and the huge dangers present everyday.

Kitty’s story also showed the limits on a woman’s world in 1914. It serves as an important part of the story, but also a backdrop to the events. Vatsal does a wonderful job of weaving into the novel the limits on women in an authentic way. Kitty may be working as a journalist, but it’s within the limits her father and her editor place on her. There is no choosing whatever story she wants. She is prevented from entering the male reporter’s work space. And her father only allows her to work part-time. Kitty even battles internally with the limits she believes she has as a woman and what she believes she’s capable of. Wait until you read the passages when Kitty visits the doctor about conditions plaguing the female. *eye roll*

The same can be said for the victim of Vatsal’s story. A gifted scientific mind doesn’t help Elspeth to be taken serious by her scientist father. We don’t get to know her well, but through Kitty’s investigation she reveals just how talented Elspeth was.

The limitations placed on these girls is integral to the pace and plotting of the book, but we also get a peek into the world of the suffragists and their fight for the vote. With the federal government refusing to address women’s right to vote and calling a state issue, the women are working to reach the heart of the president, Woodrow Wilson. Vatsal proves to have a great grasp of the time period and all the nuances. She even includes Wilson addressing the women upon his visit to New York.

In the end, Vatsal has an intriguing mystery wrapped in the rumbling national and international politics that threaten the US involvement in a coming war. I have a feeling Kitty and her world are about to get much darker.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.



EverythingWeKeepWe’ve entered the spring season and are quickly moving toward the beach read high point for the year. Summer book clubs, summer reading lists and all that jazz abound. Well, I have one for you to add to the list. And you’ll want to do is quickly because the sequel comes out July 4th. Catch up quick!

Londale’s Everything We Keep begins in the middle. The middle of a funeral that should have been a wedding. It’s here we meet Aimee, the grieving fiancée who has lost the man she should have been marrying. Lonsdale has us follow Aimee as she grieves her loss and attempts to figure out where her life should go from this point. The pesky problem here? That dead fiancée may not be so dead. At first, the clues are nothing by gossamer and theory, however as Aimee has the chance to move on with her life the whole ordeal blows up.

What I loved: The realness of Aimee’s grief and Lonsdale’s respect for the process. She doesn’t rush her, but allows us to move forward in the story. This keeps the tale from dragging. It’s a journey of self-discovery for Aimee that seems like it may have been delayed with her reliance on James, the fiancée, and her parents. The question I kept asking myself was “how would I react?” Would I have done any better with the grief that can become so overwhelming? There is also some very dark examples of family and all the secrets lurking in people’s pasts. Lonsdale does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers, until she reveals some secrets that are surprising. Bonus, some serious chemistry between some characters, but I don’t want to give away too much!

I also loved the hint of the supernatural with the psychic who propels Aimee’s journey to the truth. See backlist bonus for more on this.

Would I recommend? In a heartbeat! This was a great read. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Full of dark and light. You’ll whip through this read and be totally satisfied…until the epilogue. Curse you epilogue!!!

Backlist bonus: You have to check out Lonsdale’s All the Breaking Waves for another beach read that is “un-put-downable.” Another great story about family and love with a great helping of the super and natural.


31423554You want a reminder to change your passwords? Read The Takedown by Corrie Wang. Then, after 50 pages, you’ll want to go “off the grid.” Seriously though, the levels Wang achieved with The Takedown were fantastic and she did it all while telling a wonderful story. Before we dig in though, a quick recap.

Welcome to Parkside Prep in Brooklyn, NY. Kyle Cheng is a senior who has big plans for her future. She’s part of four-person popular girls clique, she’s beautiful, she’s smart and she doesn’t care what you think of her. From all perspectives, she seems to have it all together. In a world where technology is advanced and everyone who is everyone is on the grid and puts it all out there, your life is pretty much open for all to see. Kyle is blindsided right before Christmas when a sex video showing her with the cute, English teacher is launched for all to see. Except that isn’t her in the video and she wants to know who has it out for her. The journey will teach her a lot about herself and her friends and family. Who made that video? Will she be able to recover from the scandal?

Wang’s characters live in a world where the debate between our right for information and our right for privacy has ended. The right to information has won. While a lot of the technology will appear vaguely familiar, you can assume the world Kyle and her friends live in is 30 to 50 years in the future. It’s a destination I can see happening. So, on one level The Takedown is about this future of technology and all of the benefits and pitfalls it creates. She imagines a world more connected than ever before with apps that allow you to figure out who that cute guy is across from you on the train and send him a quick message, all without having to say an actual word. You can send an electronic payment to that homeless man on the street through his device. Yet, you can see the distance. The attachments to the Docs, the next level smart devices, and the lack of ability to disconnect from the information.

And then there is the second level to this book. The age-old quandaries of young people trying to find their way in the world with family and friends. The politics of high school are alive and well at Parkside Prep. Kyle is pretty up front about the fact that she has it good in high school. From the beginning, she admits we may not love her. And if you weren’t the smartest, prettiest or most athletic in high school, she’s probably right.

“I’ll warn you in advance. You’re probably not gonna like me. No matter what I write, you’ll think I got what I deserved…But I did always say there were only two ways to emerge from high school. Scarred or worshiped.”

In the end though, Wang creates a group of flawed students, teachers and parents. All of them are struggling in their own way. While it was tough sometimes to see it all when we were getting the story from Kyle’s perspective, but Wang does a great job giving us peeks into those other people. Kyle and her friends learn a lot about each other over the course of this book. Fair warning, the slang and speech patterns can be a bit all caps MUCH. However, it’s worth looking past them to the other levels.

Wang has created an intriguing look at a possible future with interesting characters and a fun journey as Kyle figures out who has it out for her. I highly recommend this read.

Thank you to NetGalley and the published for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



There has been a lot of discourse about the roles women have been forced to play throughout the course of history. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Saint. Boxes were created and women were placed neatly into them. Those who didn’t fit neatly into those boxes were given other names. Names meant to carry very negative labels. Trouble maker. Whore. Slut.

In Greer Macallister’s Girl in Disguise, recently widowed Kate Warne sets out to live a life playing on all of those roles and be the first female Pinkerton Detective.Based on the true story of Kate Warne, this historical fiction novel picks-up in late 1856 and carries the reader through the beginning years of the Civil War. Kate’s early life was not an easy one and plays an important role in Kate’s drive to make something of herself beyond the expected roles of daughter, wife and mother.

If you take a moment to read the author’s notes, you’ll learn Macallister’s job of recreating Warne’s life was not an easy one. Just as you would expect for a women who spent her life putting on masks and playing roles, not much exists in the way of records. Many of the case files from Pinkerton’s early years were lost, though there were some notes in later case files and from other detectives.

Macallister has done a wonderful job building pre-Civil War United States with all of its tension and strife. Her Kate Warne comes to life with all of her pain, loneliness and sheer determination. Because, when you’re first it can be a very lonely place.

“For just a moment, I faltered. Perhaps he really would turn me away. A rivulet of perspiration made the plunge from my shoulder blades down the small of my back, pooling under the lacing of my corset.

‘Someone has to be first,’ I said with all the force I could muster.”

Girl in Disguise covers a lot of time, which at times can feel slow and even confusing when you aren’t sure if years or months have transpired. However, Macallister is building Kate Warne’s progress as a detective, so that later events will make more sense. The cases she features are interesting, from embezzled money on the railroads to finding recently stolen money. But, when the Civil War begins and Pinkerton takes the side of the Union, the real risks begin and the real toll begins for Warne.

While the early years show a Warne who is resolved to stand alone in her life, the later chapters bring a level of heartache I wasn’t prepared for and I cried a few tears for her.

The real question the Kate Warne of Macallister’s novel has to ask is where does the disguise end and where do I begin? It’s an enjoyable tale showing the real challenges a woman who is first to do something in a man’s world faces.

I was given an early copy of this novel for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley.

Having just finished Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning, it was interesting to listen to this book. While both tales are about the Victorian period, women who don’t conform and murder most foul, the books have very different paces and atmosphere. Raybourn’s was a rollicking adventure with quick Gilmore Girls-like dialogue.

Thomas’ A Study in Scarlet Women is like a steam train, which starts with a slow roll and then gains speed. By the last few chapters, the train has hopped the tracks and you’re barreling down a steep incline. All this to say, I landed at the end with being plopped at the bottom of the incline a little breathless and having to take stock on what I thought I knew when I began the journey.

Quick note: I listened to the audio version with Kate Reading’s narration. Fantastic! It was tough to follow the first two chapters of the book though because of the changing perspectives. Once I learned the rhythms and the perspectives Thomas was using, it was easy to follow.

What I loved: Charlotte Holmes will make you crazy with both her brilliance and her miscalculated mistakes. I think, in this, Thomas as done a superb job of adapting the well-known male Sherlock to a female in the Victorian era. The chess moves Thomas made to position Charlotte in the role of Sherlock with a cast of supporting characters was delightful. As the last 10 minutes of the book played, I was eager to see where Thomas would take our Charlotte.

Would I recommend?: The Sherlock Holmes mythos is tricky. There are the traditional Holmes tales; the Robert Downey Jr. movies or the Laurie King novels that take on Holmes in later life. There are the modern takes on Holmes. I’m thinking of Elementary on TV or the wonderful Cumberbatch version on BBC. There are radical takes on Holmes with the YA books that imagine modern teens either as Holmes or descendants. This version is something different and the same. I think Thomas’ version could be intriguing even to those who dislike the Sherlock Holmes of Conan Doyle fame. She plays with the mores of the Victorian era and the personality of Holmes and turns it into a story of female empowerment. Even more when you get to the end of the story and learn the true story at the heart of the mystery. So, yes, I would totally recommend this book.

Backlist bonus: I haven’t read any of Sherry Thomas’ other works. However, there is a second book planned for this series in September 2017. I’ll be curious to take a look at other books by Thomas because a quick peek at her backlist looks like historical romance.

My dear friend, Nicole, interviewed me for her blog today! It was a BFF feature. Yay, BFF! Take a read if you’re interested!

Nicole Evelina - USA Today Bestselling Author

Photo credit: Eli MarquezPhoto credit: Eli Marquez

The blog challenge for this week is “Meet My Best Friend.” That would be fellow writer Courtney Marquez. We actually met through our day job (we work for the same company, but in different states), but quickly found out we share a love of all things books and writing. That was in 2009 and we’ve been friends ever since. We’re even planning on writing a book together. (I think that’s on the schedule for 2019.)

What’s one thing you’d like all our readers to know about you?
I’m going to tell you one thing which will give you some context for my answers to the other questions. I’m a pretty curious, nosy if I’m honest, person. I tend to have wide and varying interests. I like everything from R&B to bluegrass. Romantic comedy to foreign films. Classic literature to popular fiction. So, just keep that in…

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I finally picked up the first book in Raybourn’s newest series about Veronica Speedwell. “A Curious Beginning” lived up to the title! I’ve been a fan of Raybourn since I read her Lady Julia series. She excels at creating mysteries and then ingenious clues for her heroine to discover. Oh, and her heroines are firecrackers.

What I loved: It was like a starter pistol fired at the start of the book and then we were off on a romping adventure. I loved the action and suspense. In addition, the main characters were engaging and left me curious to learn more about them. I may be in love with the pirate-like Stoker. He’s funny, brooding, intelligent and easily thrown off center by Veronica.

Would I recommend?: I would, but the main character, Veronica, was very liberated for a woman of the late Victorian period. She may be shocking to delicate constitutions. Read with your pearls handy, so you can clutch them.

I’ll be picking up the sequel soon. I’m excited to say there is still plenty of Veronica Speedwell and Stoker to be had in our future.

Backlist bonus: Night of a Thousand Stars. Runaway bride. Spies. Jazz age Syria. This book had it all!



9781492636083_p0_v4_s192x300I’m not sure what made me chose this book. It may have been the cover, which is upbeat and bright, but broken in a way. The title, which is intriguing and alliterated (alliteration always appeals). See what I did there? Ha!

In the end, I choose to believe it may have been the book gods because this is one of those books which blew me away with every chapter. While it may be categorized as YA, the story drew out emotions in this mid-thirties reader which are universal if we all will admit it.

Before I go any further, a quick plot summary. Hawthorne Creely is a senior in high school, lives in a small town where everyone knows everything and she doesn’t have many friends. The book begins with the disappearance of Lizzie Lovett, THE popular girl from her older brother’s high school class. While Hawthorne has a few fuzzy memories of Lizzie from her freshman year, when Lizzie was a senior, the disappearance Hawthorne’s imagination and she begins to investigate some theories about where Lizzie Lovett might be. How could the most popular girl who had it all together just disappear while on a camping trip with her boyfriend?

While Hawthorne’s life is very different from my high school experience and my life now, Chelsea Sedoti was able to create a character in Hawthorne with deep emotion. Emotions we can all relate to no matter our age. So, there are plenty of ways Hawthorne and I are different, age being one of the biggies. But, I didn’t grow up in a small town or have small high school. I didn’t have my own car. I didn’t have an older brother and my mother was not a retired hippie. So, I’ll just get all of those things out-of-the-way.

Here are the ways I did relate to Hawthorne.

Loneliness. That feeling we all have at some point in life when we look around and wonder if anyone we know is really an actual friend. Sure, you may know a lot of people and they may know you, but who among them can handle all of your crazy if you let it out? Who among them won’t exploit the crazy? I really felt like Sedoti excelled at making Hawthorne’s loneliness and “isolation” a palpable element of the book. At moments, it brought me to tears, not in a bad way, but because if I’m honest, I have felt those emotions. They have been my companions at times. Whew. Deep stuff.

Perspective issues. Have you ever wondered what it might be like to step outside yourself for a while and watch your own life? What would it be like to talk with yourself, not as yourself, but as someone looking in at your own life? What do we miss because we’re too close to the forest to see the trees? Sedoti does a great job of giving peeks into what Hawthorne might be missing about herself through conversations with other characters. The mean girls in school or her one friend. Her brother and his friends. Maybe Hawthorne isn’t so isolated because of who she is, but because of the way she sees herself. I had very deep thoughts about this topic. Sedoti does an amazing job of using Lizzie’s life to prove there are many variations of the truth.

Curiosity and imagination. Hawthorne does not lack imagination. She sees the world through a lens where anything is possible. I was actually a bit jealous of her willingness to own her world lens and use it to dig into the Lizzie Lovett disappearance.

Now, one of the ways Hawthorne and I are very different is her bravery. Can you be in awe of a high school book character? Well, I was. I wish I had the bravery of Hawthorne. Did she sometimes do things that I knew wouldn’t end well for her? Yes. But, she was brave enough to do it. It made me want to be more brave in my own life today.

On all fronts, I enjoyed this book. Clearly, I’m a fan of Hawthorne, even when she’s acting in an immature way that won’t end well. The other characters in this book were interesting with facets and depth. The story of Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance helps to move the story along as Hawthorne figures out life. Note: we do find out what happened to Lizzie. The resolution of this mystery helps to drive home the end of the book. Who was Lizzie really? Who are we all really?

I encourage readers to pick this one up and meet Hawthorne. An intriguing plot is supported by great character development and emotional investment. I found I truly rooted for Hawthorne and her family.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this book for a fair and honest review.



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