Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being--what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift."
Ada Calhoun's frank, eye-opening, and deeply thought-provoking Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give truly sucked me in from the first page. I'm not a huge fan of books that give marriage advice because in reality, I've found them to usually be condescending in nature or too "prim and proper." Ada Calhoun shattered all of those ideas I had about marriage books with this blunt but real look at what marriage truly is all about.
Ada's writing style is engaging and exciting. She weaves her own anecdotes with advice from experts and experiences of her friends carefully together. In a way, each chapters is its own standalone story, but when you finish the book, all of the chapters weave seamlessly together into a quilt of knowledge about married life. I felt like Ada put into words so many things I feel as a married woman but can't quite express--or don't have the courage to. She is honest and raw in her revelations, letting the reader into her marriage from a unique vantage point and allowing us all to benefit from her wisdom and her mistakes.
I love that she never has a "know it all" attitude about marriage. She doesn't claim to be an absolute expert. Instead, she presents information and various perspectives, allowing the reader to digest it at his or her pace. I could connect with so many of the stories in the book and loved the humorous asides presented.
I also think Ada Calhoun approaches marriage from a courageous perspective. Few are willing to admit some of the difficult realities she does while also holding the stance that marriage is worth it. I love that she doesn't claim marriage is all rosy, but she also doesn't claim that marriage is worthless, horrible, or hopeless. She strikes the perfect balance, showing the reader that all marriages are a struggle, but are also worth it. She gives the reader permission to be imperfect while also inspiring the reader to work hard at marriage.
There are so many beautiful quotes in this book that made me reflect on my own relationship. I really liked the section on J.R. R. Tolkien and the phrase "companions in shipwreck not guiding stars." What a powerful statement and reminder; the book is filled with tons of valuable phrases like these.
Ada Calhoun presents her ideas in a skillfully crafted story that doesn't feel "preachy" or "overly academic." Instead, I felt like I was talking to a close but wise friend about love, marriage, and all of the things so many people are afraid to say.
Thank you, Ada Calhoun, for being brave enough to say the things about married life so many shy away from. Thank you for giving us permission to accept that we may never be the perfect wife, husband, or couple, but that is perfectly beautiful and okay in its own way.
I recommend this book for anyone who is married, has been married, or is considering marriage. I think this should be a wedding gift for every newly married couple because it is just that good, real, and important.
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Scroll down for an excerpt from Inked Hearts, releasing this fall!
I adjust my sunglasses on my head, a few flyaway strands of hair sticking to my hot-pink lip gloss and making me wish I opted for plain lips. But a girl changing her life… well, it felt like a pink lip gloss kind of day this morning.
I drive on, Keith Urban’s songs and Henry’s snoring my only company besides my warped memories and anxiety-ridden thoughts. The sun beats down, a few clouds wispy in the bright sky. It’s a gorgeous day, a day screaming of redemption, of resurrection.
With nothing but time to think for the last two hours of my drive, my mind wanders to another dark place—the place beyond the bedroom escapades of my ex-husband. It travels to the place of doubt, the place so many family members and friends have played on in the past few weeks.
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We can’t judge a love story by its couple.
“Wow, you two just don’t... go together.”
It’s a comment my husband and I have heard from both polite company and strangers over the years. In some ways, I understand.
We are complete opposites in our mannerisms, our personalities, and our tendencies. He is a rugged, bearded blue collar worker who hates reading, loves wearing the color black, and doesn’t care for fashion. I am a studious bookworm who loves everything pink, is a teacher by profession, and has way too many shoes. He is a free-spirit who doesn’t care for authority, while I’m a rule-following worrier. He’s spontaneous and extroverted; I’m a planning introvert.
We are definitely the yin to each other’s yang.
Still, it amazes me how so many people can judge our relationship without even really understanding us. We’ve been married five years now, but we’ve been together for over sixteen—we met at the age of twelve and have been together ever since. Our relationship isn’t perfect; I’d argue that none are. Nevertheless, we’ve found a depth in our connection and a fulfillment from being together that, in my opinion, is what marriage should be about. In short, we’ve found a happiness in our love and an appreciation for the journey we’ve walked together.
Writing online, however, I’ve come to realize how quick we are as a society to pass judgments on everything and everyone, especially when it comes to love. We like to think we can categorize and generalize everything around us just from a quick glance.
As a frequent writer about the topic of marriage, the “you two don’t go together” has been expressed in more depth and sometimes more viciously. I’ve received comments questioning the validity of my marriage, accusing us of being together for the wrong reasons, and ripping our connection apart. I’ve been accused of only marrying him for his beard—seriously—and he’s been accused of being controlling. We’ve been berated for not having kids, some claiming this clearly means our relationship isn’t strong. We’ve heard it all. As so many of us come to learn, the online world can be brutal in its judgments and comments.
Although the online world is certainly a harsh representative of our society, even the “real world” isn’t always kind. I’ve come to realize how much we all tend to judge the relationships around us from our surface-level view of couples. We assume we know couples, for better or worse. We are haughty enough to think we can understand a couple’s relationship based solely on their public persona.
There seems to be a constant need to judge each other’s marriages, relationships, and connections.
The True Defining Elements of a Love Story
Like so many things in life, you can’t judge the true worth of a love story by what you think you know. Real love stories happen behind the public persona created by a couple.
Real love stories are quilts consisting of patches from various circumstances and memories. To judge a couple based on one image is to falsify the snapshots that make up who they are.
To appreciate a relationship, you have to be able to see it in its entirety because in the end, isn’t the journey what truly builds a relationship?
The struggle a couple walks together isn’t always apparent in their public interactions. You don’t know what they’ve been through hand in hand. You don’t know what they’ve earned and built together, what they’ve overcome.You can’t see any of that from the picture they show to the world.
You can’t see what they’ve battled and survived in private by the way they hold hands.
You can’t see the struggles, disappointments, and hardships they’ve faced by the way they walk beside each other.
You can’t see the joys and connections they share by how good they look together.
You can’t see the midnight dances in the kitchen over exciting news, the stolen kisses, or the sweet inside jokes shared by overhearing one conversation.
You can’t see the sweet, simple, everyday moments from the way they glance at each other.
Quite simply, you can’t understand who they are through a rash judgement about the foundation of their love based on outward appearances or assumptions.
This idea can certainly go both ways. The couples you seem to think have it all don’t always. The couples who swoon over each other in public sometimes live a much darker persona at home. Just like in Big Little Lies, sometimes the public version of a couple is much brighter than the serious, dark truth hidden at home.
Regardless, the point is this: you cannot possibly judge a relationship based on public appearance or outside knowledge of a couple.
Moreover, real love stories aren’t about flashy shows of affection or romantic gestures. These do not define a couple. If it were that simple, love wouldn’t be such a complex emotion so many of us struggle with. Love is much more layered than a surface-level appearance.
Real love is much harder to define because it’s a collection of moments, memories, events, feelings, and pathways. It’s an intersecting web of choices and situations that create an ever-changing relationship.
In short, a couple can only be defined by the journey they walk together, a journey only they know and understand.
Thus, we must remember that, at the end of the day, a love story is only owned by two people: the two people living it. The rest of us are just bystanders unaware of the true tale.
Lindsay Detwiler is a contemporary romance author with Hot Tree Publishing. Learn more about her works here: http://bit.ly/2u42BjU
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Feisty Sophia never shies away from life. Playful, romantic, connected—her marriage was the thing of fairy tales. But when tragedy strikes, Sophia is left to pick up the pieces of her life.
After leaving the army, Jackson is ready to start afresh. But when he returns home, his life spirals out of control.As Sophia and Jackson find themselves in each other, they start to see redemption is possible.
Trying to piece together a new life, they must answer the question: Should they forge a life together and say goodbye to their pasts completely, or should they loyally go their separate ways to avoid heartache?
A Review of Lauren K. Denton's The Hideaway
The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"I was a new woman--risky and adventurous. It felt foreign and perfect at the same time."
The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton is a sweet, summer read about secrets, family, identity, and love. The southern vibe to the novel is palpable not just through the setting, but the languid style of the writing. I adored the characters and the overall atmosphere created in this novel.
The story is told from the perspective of Sara Jenkins after her grandmother passes away. She moves back to Sweet Bay to take over the bed and breakfast her grandmother owned. However, as the summer unfolds, Sara learns secrets about her family, her grandmother, and herself. Through these secrets, she comes to learn what she really wants in life.
The story is also told from Sara's grandmother's perspective using flashbacks. These flashbacks help the reader get a full understanding of the setting, the characters, and the message of the work.
Overall, this book is a super sweet read about friendship and family. I adored the connections in the book and the overall sense of love at The Hideaway. It made me want to pick up and move to Sweet Bay. There wasn't a lot of suspense or mystery in the novel--it was more of an introspective kind of novel, which was perfect for summer.
I wish Sara had more flaws, perhaps, because at times she almost seemed too perfect. I would've liked to have seen a little bit more dimension to her character. Nonetheless, the book was still expertly crafted and a perfect read that reminded me of a Debbie Macomber book.
I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet read about family.
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Nose scrunches, general disgust, raised eyebrows, and repulsion.
These are sometimes the reactions when I say I'm a romance author.
I understand the genre isn't for everyone. Still, over the past three years as a published author in the romance genre, I'm come to learn there are so many unfair stigmas about romance reads. Some automatically assume whips and chains are a part of your stories, Fifty Shades forever changing the way we think of romance.
Others have told me they only read "real literature" or only like books with "complex characters," so romance isn't for them.
Some simply say they hate cheesy works and stories when eyeing my books.
When I'm met with these responses to the romance genre, I smile politely. Like I said, I understand the genre isn't for everyone.
But as both a writer in the genre and an avid reader of it, I know these stigmas and stereotypes are so often untrue.
My First Love Affair with the Genre
When I first decided to write a novel, I knew without a doubt it would be in the romance genre because I'd fallen in love with it years before.
In junior high, Nicholas Sparks's stories became my obsession, my own love affair of sorts. I adored the way he could weave together two seemingly different lives, two broken people, into a single, working unit. I loved reading about their journey, their first kiss, their connection uncovered. I loved the way he could make the most complex, frightening human emotion seem to make sense.
Thus, putting pen to paper, I knew love stories were what I wanted to write. I wanted to explore the depth of romantic connections. I wanted to uncover romance where there seemed to be hopelessness. I wanted to help broken characters find their way to redemption down a rocky road of love.
I knew when I started writing romance there was a certain stigma about it, but I didn't worry about that. I worried about telling my stories, stories of complexity and emotion. Stories of reality and harsh truths. My romances aren't always about skipping into the sunset and finding a simple solution to life's problems. My romances are about the struggles we as humans face when trying to meld two different lives into one. It's about the obstacles that threaten not only our love, but our identities.
The Truth About Romance
Romance stories aren't cheesy, easy reads or lighthearted, unrealistic sagas.
They aren't all about abs and sexual encounters.
They aren't all about boy meets girl, love, marriage, and happily-ever-after.
As a reader and writer in the genre, I've come to learn that romance is a broad genre with so many nuances in its offerings. There are stories of escape, stories of depth, and stories of gut-wrenching pain.
I know no matter how many articles are written about the value of the romance genre and the depth of its literary value, there will always be stigma. Romance will forever be pictured as shirtless men parading women into the sunsets of forever.
Still, I want to make it clear: I will never apologize for writing romance. No matter how many sighs or shriveled noses I see at my work, I will stand proud knowing I write in this genre. I will never back down from telling the stories I love, even if some don't want to take them seriously. I will never stop defending the genre for its literary value, it's revelation of deep human truths, and its beauty at highlighting one of the most misunderstood yet valued concepts of the human journey: Love.
To learn more about my dedication to genuine, sweet love stories and to get three free chapters of my most recent release, sign-up for my mailing list:http://bit.ly/2u42BjUbit.ly/2u42BjU
Once and for All by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You can't measure love by time put in, but the weight of those moments. Some in life are light, like a touch. Others, you can't help but stagger beneath."
Once and for All is a beautiful, engaging young adult romance about moving on, tragedy, and hope. I adored the overall plot and the beautiful weaving of two different timelines together.
Louna's mother and godfather run a wedding planning business, so she's grown up around love and talks of forever. However, because of a serious tragedy, Louna doesn't actually believe in forever. When Ambrose is hired by Louna's mother to help out with the business for a summer, however, everything Louna thinks she knows about life and love might change.
Louna's character is the perfect balance of quirky and hesitant. I loved how dynamic she felt and how she changed through the book. Although this is a young adult novel, I felt connected with her character because she felt very mature. This is probably because at a young age, she experienced tragedy most adults couldn't even begin to imagine. This maturity allowed me to connect with her even though she is in her twenties.
I loved the supporting cast of characters in this book as well. They are all well-developed and memorable. The story moves at a perfect pace, allowing you to languish in the beautiful prose but also to feel like the story is filled with events. Sarah Dessen incorporates flashbacks seamlessly that help explain who Louna is.
This is, by far, my favorite young adult romance because it has the depth and sincerity of an adult novel while dealing with the unique issues of teenage romance. Sarah's writing style is gorgeous and captivating. There are so many beautiful lines in the book.
I wish the bonus scene had been more in-depth because I wanted to hear more about the story and where it went. However, this book is definitely a five-star novel and, in my opinion, flawless.
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Just a Girl and Her Dog
Just a Girl and Her Dog
Henry and I were in a bit of mourning when we took our walk today.
It's August, and the back-to-school ads are in full-swing. Our summer is winding down, and with it, our endless days of spending time together.
Our summers aren't anything special, not to the outsider. Our summers are simply days when we don't have anywhere we have to be, anyone we have to impress, or anything we have to do. It's a time of messy hair and an unpainted face. It's heels traded in for flip-flops, and professional dresses traded for leggings and T-shirts.
Our summers aren't about exotic travel or once-in-a-lifetime encounters. For Henry and me, our summer is about the simple moments we have together every single day.
It's relaxing on the couch with an extra cup of coffee, watching too many hours of the Today Show. It's time on the deck, observing our neighborhood and playing in Henry's favorite sprinkler.
Summer's a time of late lunches and naps together. It's a time of walks in the neighborhood, a slow, ambling pace because there's no rush. It's too many snacks and way too much ice cream. It's trips to the local parks and walks to local businesses. It's Chinese food for lunch on a Tuesday because why not.
It's trips to visit family and friends on a whim. Summer is watching the sun go down and watching movies and sharing a popsicle. It's lemonade and trips to Poochey Chef.
It's really nothing special... it's just special because we get to spend time together.
I know once fall comes, we'll still have our adventures together. There will be autumn festivals and surprise snow days and all sorts of things in between.
But as summer ends, I always mourn it a little bit. As much as I love teaching, I know I'll miss the endless days of spending time with those big brown eyes and exploring life together. I'll miss the stress-free days of just existing, just playing, just living.
With each passing summer, I become more acutely aware that there won't always be a summer of Henry and me. Some year, a year that will come way too fast because dogs' lives are way too short, we'll have our last summer together. We won't even know it at the time. We'll be in the middle of last walks and last ice creams and last trips to the park without even knowing. Some day, I'll look back on our pictures from that last summer alone, facing all those adventures without my trusty pal at the end of the leash in my hand.
I don't want to think about those days.
So for now, Henry and I are going to enjoy every last second of this summer. We're going to take more walks and eat more ice cream. We're going to take too many selfies and play with his Jolly Ball in the yard until we both pass out. We're going to laugh and play and enjoy being what we love being the most:
Just a girl and her mastiff.
Just a girl and her dog.
Just a girl and her absolute best friend.
It's been a great #summer2017. Let's keep enjoying it. Visit meon Facebook for more behind-the-scenes at the writer's life.
Inked Hearts releases October 21, 2017, with Hot Tree Publishing. This contemporary romance is set in Ocean City, Maryland.
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“Six years, a complex about my freckles, a love for pastrami, and a fear of failure.
That’s what he gave me before slaughtering my heart and my faith in men.”
Suffering from the sting of betrayal, twenty-eight-year-old Avery Johannas quits her job and moves hundreds of miles away to Ocean City, the beach town of her dreams. With the help of her zany roommate, Jodie, Avery finds a new career, home, and freedom. Throughout her self-exploration, she makes only one rule: She won’t give her heart to a man again. She’s living for herself this time.
But then she meets Jesse.
A tattoo shop owner, the green-eyed Jesse Pearce is wild with a touch of mystery. As Jesse and Avery explore Ocean City and their friendship, they’ll have a hard time drawing a line in the sand between their hearts.
When summer nights get a little more heated than either expected, they’ll have to ask themselves: Can they let go of their notions of love, or will their hearts be permanently inked by past pain?
Changing Our Minds: It's Our Prerogative
Sometimes it seems like society tells women we have to have every single aspect of ourselves 100% together. We must be decisive and focused when it comes to our goals. We must have a set plan for our lives and not veer from it. We must be steadfast go-getters who have their eyes locked solely on the prize.
As I approach thirty, though, there's something I've come to learn: This idea is garbage.
To live is to inherently accept that we never quite know what's happening. Life is a jumbled, crazy journey filled with twisting and veering paths. Some paths intersect. Some loop back on themselves. Some bring us to crossroads filled with choices.
No one can be certain of every step.
Plus, there's the fact that we must allot for change. We are dynamic beings. We grow and learn. We develop and change our vantage point. We do not stay the same.
As women, we are complex being with choices, regrets, confusions, and questions. We don't have everything figured out, no matter how old or wise we are. We change our minds. We get lost sometimes. We lose sight of who we are or what we want to be.
Life isn't always filled with simple, two-answer questions. Life is murky and confusing. We get misled sometimes, and sometimes we simply have trouble listening to our gut.
The thing I've come to realize, though, is that literature for women should reflect this in order to give us permission to be okay with this.
Literature Reflecting Life
Too many times, I've seen the ridiculous standard held for women in real life held for fictional characters. Female characters, especially in romance, are expected to have all the answers, to make the "right" decisions, and to play by the rules all the time.
Just like in real life, I don't agree with this.
When I set out to write romance, I knew I wanted to write for the real, modern woman. I wanted to write for the woman who changes her mind, her heart, and even herself. I wanted to write for the woman who doesn't have every answer and who doesn't know exactly how many steps and turns she'll take in her life. I wanted to showcase women who were courageous enough to not only chase happiness at all costs but who also weren't afraid to make mistakes.
I wanted to write about perfectly imperfect women who got confused, got down, got lost, and got broken. I wanted to write about women who were far from perfect...but perfectly fine with that.
The women in my books change their minds. They get confused about their hearts, and they get confused about themselves. Just like us, they make choices only to regret them. They make choices they are sure of only to go back and change their minds.
Like in real life, the women in my books are just trying to survive this crazy, turning path called life with a sense of purpose and a sense of joy.
The women in my books aren't perfect, and that may bother some people. To me, though, as a perfectly imperfect woman, I wouldn't have it any other way.
To learn more about my perfectly imperfect female characters, click the Books link above.
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