Change is Hard

The longer you write, the more you see yourself returning to the same themes, over and over again, like a river slowly carving its way through rock. Certain ideas are pebbles that catch in your mind. Over time, they become smooth and polished, but the process is long and hard.

There’s something rewarding about returning to the same themes, though. Discovering that you still have something left to say after feeling like you said it all the previous time is a small miracle indeed. Writing a book can feel like exhausting your soul. In the end, is there anything left? Fortunately the answer always seems to be yes, though time is required to unlock the reserves and discover new treasures. We may return to familiar territory time and again, but seen through different eyes, it’s a whole new world.

I find that I’m drawn to the same familiar paths in my reading life as well. I read widely, and I am fortunate in that regard. Between my wonderful women’s fiction book club (shout-out to the Novel Bites!), my library, my kid’s various projects and my ever-expanding home library, I end up visiting all kinds of stories, both real and imaginary. But even when my reads seem varied, there are often these subtle (or not so subtle) connections to theme.

A big one for me is change.

Change is hard. It’s always been hard for me, and I imagine it always will be. I am slow to adjust to a new direction. I feel unmoored. Shaken. My internal compass is a slow and tedious device that lags far behind the pace of the real world. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an introvert. :)

Change has been a theme in my reading of late. You could argue that every story is ostensibly about change, but these are some of my recent reads that really knocked this particular theme out of the park:


Wish by Barbara O’Connor


Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer


Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Giving Books & Talking Books

This year I tried something new for Halloween. Well, technically these somethings were old to me, but new to everyone who took them home: TRICK OR TREAT BOOKS!

I’m a huge candy fan, so yes, there was still candy to go with the books, but as I handed the candy out, I told the kids that if they saw a book they liked, they could take it!


Some of my favorite reactions:

  • The 3yo Supergirl who promptly handed her candy basket to her dad, sat on my front steps, and started reading Elmo’s Christmas.
  • The girl with cat whiskers who squealed when she grabbed The Seventh Wish.
  • The boy who slyly nabbed a book with a bunny on the cover and stuffed it into his bucket after his friends left.
  • The teens who didn’t take books, but surprised me by telling me what they were reading: Rick Riordan, Harry Potter, and The Color Purple, among others.

On the subject of talking books, Counting Thyme is on a podcast! The Power of Story is a great new book podcast by Caitlin Lore. Be sure to check out all of her episodes!

What to Read Next?

Over the summer I had a conversation with some of my favorite educators on Twitter about contemporary middle grade stories that pair well with Counting Thyme. I’m a huge fan of many of the books they suggested, so I’m sharing them here today. If you or your students loved THYME, your next favorite read could be one of these great books!

Rules by Cynthia Lord


The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart


Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper


So B It by Sarah Weeks


Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick


The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop


The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner


A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban


The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin


Thanks to my wonderful Twitter peeps for helping me put this list together (shout-out to the #bookjourney crew)! I love read-alikes, which give us such a great opportunity to make connections across characters and stories. Feel free to share your faves and recommendations in the comments below. And if you’ve read THYME, don’t miss the reader participation campaign that launched this week!

Read on!



Goodbye, Summer


This summer offered up a surprise for me. I experienced the joy of seeing Counting Thyme on summer reading lists around the country–something I hadn’t really anticipated in the way that all authors fail to anticipate their books’ lives beyond the manuscript phase. It’s been a truly incredible thing, and I was fortunate to write about the experience on The Booklist Reader, which you can read here.

We Do It for the Kids

Last week, something brand new and astounding happened: I received my first fan letter from a  student. Now, I know I wrote a middle grade novel, and that it’s full of awkward moments and first crush flutters and bathroom humor, but seriously, I wasn’t prepared for letters from kids!

Side note: physical letters are AWESOME. I’m one of those moms who makes her kids write thank-you’s (just like the mom in Counting Thyme), so I really appreciate the effort that it takes to get a letter in the mail these days. But letters are special. They are worth it.

This experience has got me thinking about why we are so passionate about books, outside of our own identity as readers. I think we do it for the kids. There is nothing greater than watching this happen:


Or this:


Although this is pretty great, too:

But seriously, as I schedule my first school visits (including Skypes on WRAD!), I am so grateful for the opportunity to talk books with kids. Some of those kids are already book nerds; the rest of them just don’t know it yet. But one day, there will come that magical moment when they lose themselves inside of a book. It’s a moment fueled by the passion of teachers, librarians, and parents–it’s the faith that unites us: Our belief that our lives are enriched by story.

Stories created civilization. Stories bind us together through our common experiences as human beings. It is story that builds knowledge and grows empathy, so that we can all evolve together. We who write and share and love books are doing the work of the ages. What could be more exciting?

The books shown above include: THE RIVERMAN from Aaron Starmer. My older son is obsessed with this magical trilogy about a world where stories are born. Then there’s I CAN’T WAIT, by Amy Schwartz, a funny picture book about waiting for something amazing to happen, and BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT by Silvia Borando, about finding friendship by expanding your comfort zone.

Books for Boys

I can’t tell you how often I hear friends looking for book recommendations for their middle grade aged boys on the Facebook, or on the blacktop after school. It’s hard to find books for this age set if you’re not tuned in to reading blogs and Newbery lists.

To be clear, by middle grade I mean grades 3 through 7, age 8 to 12 (roughly). Anyone can enjoy a middle grade read, but in terms of content as appropriate to age of reader, this is the rough guideline for the designation. For example, if you’re not ready for your child to read THE HUNGER GAMES because of the overall concept of kids fighting kids to the death, then middle grade is where you want to go for some great books.

Now, as far as the gender thing goes, I firmly believe that anyone can enjoy any book, if it’s the right book for them. Middle grade is a great source for books that appeal to both genders, with the acknowledgement that individual readers will have their own tastes, and that’s okay!

With no further blabbery from me, here’s a list of some FABULOUS middle grade reads, ones that offer plenty of action, humor, and heart:

The Riverman (The Riverman Trilogy, #1)
THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer
The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)
The Great Greene Heist
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Steering Toward Normal
By the Grace of Todd
BY THE GRACE OF TODD by Louise Galveston
The Wednesday Wars
FRINDLE by Andrew Clements


The Why

My younger son and I, reading MY TRUCK IS STUCK to his class

It can be easy to forget why we do this work, what with deadlines and doubts and all of the things we do in our own little writerly vacuums. The good news: All it takes is reading a book to a class of eager young readers to remember the why.

A Few Great Reads

Here are my latest five star YA reads! Plus, a great MG author to discover and a captivating adult noir read from my book club. I also read quite a few other strong books in the last month or two, so you can always find me on GoodReads for more recommendations.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A captivating story with a unique world and compelling characters that will steal your heart and keep you turning pages through the night!

All Our Yesterdays (All Our Yesterdays #1)All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a unique concept, and so very well executed. From the lovely, clear prose to the quiet, wrenching moments, All Our Yesterday’s has everything you could ever want in a YA read. Highly recommended.

Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not just a story, but all of our stories–such a close examination of what it is to live and love, unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It took me a few pages to relax into the narrative style, but once I did I could not read quickly enough nor slowly enough, and often found myself stopping to read again, and again, as the meaning and phrases built momentum, propelling the story forward, and taking me with it. I loved following the many different characters, as they took their separate yet entwined journeys. I loved the effortless sense of place and self Levithan develops with his beautiful yet understated imagery. And I loved the bare honesty he put upon the page, something I aspire to in my own writing. While this is not a light everyday read, it is a worthy read, and one that will take up a place in your heart.

Thanks to a recommendation from my lovely agent, I’ve recently discovered Cynthia Kadohata’s work, and I recommend it to anyone who loves deep, character-driven middle grade!

The Thing About LuckThe Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the writing and characters here, and am eager to read Kira-Kira now.

I don’t fit in a ton of adult fiction these days, but this book was well worth my time:

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book with my book club in November, and it was unlike much I’d read before. Fans of Gone Girl will surely enjoy this story.

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For the Love of Contemporary

I’ve read some great YA contemporaries of late. Aristotle & Dante was my favorite–perhaps my favorite book of the year. As I enter into revisions on my MG novel, I’m on to MG contemporaries for a while (and a little YA fantasy for fun), but if you’re looking for a great read, check these titles out!

The Tragedy PaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very skillful exploration of tragedy as a theme, with an interesting cast of characters and a hook that draws you in right at the beginning. Our present day MC is Duncan, who arrives at his boarding school to discover that the boy who had the room before him left him a pile of CDs. On the CDs are hours of recordings, recordings that hold the secret to what happened to that boy, Tim, the year before–a mystery that plays out in a heartfelt way that kept me turning pages.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains some of the loveliest writing I have encountered in a novel of late. I think that speaks to the author’s background in poetry–absolutely gorgeous, uncluttered prose. And paired with such a wonderful and touching story. I loved every single page. Ten out of five stars!

OCD Love StoryOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful YA voice and a fascinating topic.

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Confession: I Don’t Always Finish a Read

*waits for boos*

Yep. That’s right. I don’t always finish reading a book. You may be thinking, and this is news why? Well, because that’s not always been the case. Up until about a year ago, I ALWAYS finished reading. Sometimes it took weeks, months–but eventually, I’d finish reading every single book I started.

Not anymore.

Part of me feels liberated, but another part sad. Even before I’d ever considered writing, I studied literature. I appreciated the toil behind every single word on the page. My fingers couldn’t get enough of the paper–that crisp snap of turning a page over in a split second as my eyes devoured the inky words. I still feel that way about reading. But now that I’m writing, well, I only have so much “word time” in my eyeballs for each day. I consider myself a pretty quick reader, but I  honestly don’t know how agents and editors read as much as they do. I mean, they read MOUNTAINS of words. More words than my poor eyeballs could ever take in.

So I’ve given myself permission to stop reading if a book doesn’t work for me, even though I still feel rotten about it. I like to keep those books in a “maybe later” pile. Seems nicer that way. But as much as I can regret not finishing a book that doesn’t work for me, I love that saving the time paves the way for even more AWESOME reads. On that note, here are a few of the best YA books I’ve read lately!

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best paced YA novel I’ve ever read. Swept me off my feet. Loved the world, and the characters even more so. A chillingly rational answer to a familiar hypothesis: when the aliens arrive, what will happen to us?

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely, eloquent story of survival in the face of grief. Millay has a talent for letting the reader into her character’s souls. I enjoyed every word.

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful characters and an interesting world construct make this series stand out in the field of dystopian YAs. If you haven’t read Legend, go for it, because the whole series is out this year! No waiting! :)

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat FriendThe DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great read, with such honest, complicated emotions and incredible chemistry–I couldn’t put it down.

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