Fun to read: Texas Hustle, Cynthia D’Alba

better-in-booksI read and listen to a lot of books every year, the subject matter nothing less than a United Nations level of diverse. I have an addiction to Irwin Shaw and Frank Sinatra biographies. I read books on climate change. I’ve read all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet (except for the newly released X), the complete series Bones is based on, and anything and everything written by Gabby Bernstein and Liz Gilbert (I would read their post-it notes for fun). I don’t have many “guilty pleasures” when it comes to reading; I believe reading, in general, is nothing but an amazing pleasure. I don’t do comic books or graphic novels and will never understand anime (but have nothing against them). But every once in awhile, in the midst of a biography spree or after 10 chapters of Song of Ice and Fire, I have to stop and take a break.

Thus enters the classic American romance novel. I have a friend who has read these books since we were in high school, only then she carried them around in a brown paper sack. About as racy as I personally ever got was reading my stepmom’s Danielle Steel novels. Having said that, I feel like the days of hiding a love of adult lit is now over. Thank you, Mr. Grey. And really, why would you even care what someone reads? If it brings them a moment of peace and it’s not Let’s Bomb Shit or How to be an Axe Murderer, get off their junk about it.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting two authors from this world via mutual girlfriends. At first we were just Twitterfriends, but I’ve since met both in person and can honestly say they’re two of the most fabulous women I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. As a “writer” I envy anyone who can create fiction as much and as often as they do. Cat Johnson and Lorelei James are both New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Authors and are very well known and respected in adult contemporary literature, most especially in western romance. Ladies love those cowboys. So I’ve been told.

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What to read: Liane Moriarty, John Green, Allegiant, Insurgent and MORE!

248190_537582386299388_285614533_nWell now I just have an overall case of reader depression. I haven’t posted any book reviews on here since February and after updating Goodreads, I discovered I am actually three books behind on my reading challenge for this year. I would call myself a slacker but I know what the problem is (was). The problem was Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones. But I am now finished with both. That’s right folks, I watched seasons three AND four of Game of Thrones over Fourth of July weekend. I am a WINNER. Nothing says America like a good television binge. Before you judge me as a lazy heifer, you should know I also worked out three times, had a great holiday cookout with friends for which I made homemade pimento cheese and ensured no vodka went to waste, went to a concert, decorated my back patio, started an herb garden and organized my jewelry (do you understand what an undertaking untangling necklaces can be?!) So THERE.

My biggest accomplishment out of all of this, however, was surviving the Red Wedding. You people have had like a year to recover. As I write this (I always let a post rest overnight before publishing) I’ve had all of one friggin’ day. I’m still traumatized. I need extra therapy after watching 20 episodes of that show in such a short amount of time. I am unfortunately going to have to now give in and read these books. If you know me well, you know that what will drive me up and down a wall faster than anything is NOT KNOWING. My innate sense of impatience and uncanny ability to be a nosy ass (the journalism degree wasn’t a coincidence) doesn’t allow for much “wait and see.” I have avoided reading these books much longer than the show has been on or its fans knew of their existence. The Song of Ice and Fire series was my ex-husband’s absolute favorite. Back in our happy days together (when they actually existed) and thanks to my love for Lord of the Rings, I read a lot of fantasy myself. I know what a ginormous project it is. I can pretty much kiss my reading challenge goodbye if I officially decide to do this.

In the meantime, I’ve read many other fabulous, non nerd alert (for the most part) books since I posted about Wild in February. If you recall, my primary literary mission was to read a lot of the books upon which many of this year’s movies are based. This already included Fault in Our Stars, Labor Day and Wild. There are several others listed here. I want to point out, due to the context of my full-time job, this post and anything else I write about related to movies is completely independent of my profession. I ain’t making money off of this, folks. At least not yet and never in relation to that aspect of my career.

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What to read: Wild

WildTP_Books-330As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m trying to read the majority of BuzzFeed’s 16 Books To Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year that I’ve not completed already. And by majority, I mean the ones I actually want to read (and eventually see the movie). I was attempting to go in order of movie release date, but my anticipation got the best of me and patience has never been one of my better virtues, so I jumped ahead to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This one has actually been on my Amazon wish list for awhile, as it was a top rated book of 2012 by pretty much every website you can imagine (and The Oprah). How I hadn’t read it already I have no clue. Actually I do, I believe books have their time and place in each of our respective lives. They hit our hands or our Kindles exactly when they’re meant to. Even Twilight had its purpose in my life. More on that later.

As for Wild, I have not been this inspired and motivated by a book since I read Eat, Pray, Love. For the most part, those who’ve read EPL either LOVE it or HATE it, there isn’t much in between. I am in the love love love camp, for both the book and movie. And I continue to drink Eilzabeth Gilbert’s Kool-Aid; I can’t stop myself. EPL is actually the main reason I believe books appear in our lives when needed. December of 2008 was a very hard time. I was in LA, going through my divorce and it was my holiday season “single” for quite some time. I’d also been through a handful of other unfortunate encounters with the opposite sex. I don’t know any other way to phrase that other than “encounters”, as describing them as relationships is both an overstatement and much too kind. At the time, one of my then girlfriends worked for the studio that released EPL and she gave me a copy of the book for Christmas. She told me she hadn’t finished it yet herself, but what she had read reminded her of me, what I was going through, and thought I should read it. She was right. There were parts of that book that were extremely painful to read, but it was still therapeutic.

Although I could relate to what Elizabeth Gilbert went through in the beginning of EPL, why she set off on her travels, I will be forthright and say I cannot, at all, relate to what Cheryl Strayed went through that prompted her travels. She lost her mom, very suddenly and tragically to cancer. While not able to empathize, I can certainly sympathize with her unimaginable loss. It threw her into a mad phase of drugs and infidelity, which led to a very painful divorce. Now that I can empathize with. For example, she says that Paul (her husband) and her “fought and cried and shook the car with [their] rage. [They] were monstrous in [their] cruelty…” Although it was me sitting in my car alone, the same ferocious arguments took place over multiple phone calls. I lost my voice on more than one occasion. Cried so much I became dehydrated. Scared multiple people in the parking lot of Westside Pavilion. I never knew how nasty I could be and gosh knows I never want to be that way again. I don’t need time alone in the wilderness to know that.

I don’t think what I posted about and that I finished this book on Tuesday was a coincidence. They’re perfect companions. Everyone is going through something right now, most likely something we don’t want to be going through. And we all deal differently. I’ve dealt with tough times in a variety of ways, both rather toxic and relatively healthy. These days I personally try to turn to my readings, my Gaby and my yoga mat. Cheryl Strayed turned to 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. And I have immense respect for her for doing so. I was proud of myself for just hiking Runyon Canyon when I lived in LA.

As Cheryl more or less says in the book’s trailer and in the last chapter, she truly came out on the other side of her massive hike as a different person, a whole person. As soon as it was over, she realized she had absolutely no idea where her life was going to take her after such a trying journey, she really only knew where she was going to live temporarily, just like we have no clue what is going to happen to us after our tribulations are over. Or really…what is going to happen at all. And that’s absolutely okay.

It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. – Cheryl Strayed

Xo, Nikki

PS for those of you who are fellow fans, Nick Hornby actually wrote the script for the movie!

What to read: You Knew Me When

2013-09-06-cover_000I recently came across You Knew Me When on, of all places, Lauren Conrad’s Fall Reading List of 2013. I’d already read a handful of novels LC had included, most notably Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which I absolutely loved and of course To Kill a Mockingbird more than once. It’s an all-time favorite and one of my dog’s names is Harper Lee (her first foster mom named her, it naturally caught my eye on Pet Finder!) Anyhow, I’ll be truthful, the first few chapters of You Knew Me When had me rolling my eyes. Katherine Hill is a very cliché character: the 30-something high-powered NYC executive who has sacrificed life and love for her career. As the story what happened with her ex-best friend, Laney Hancock, unfolds, there is depth in the character development and you do get quite involved. It just isn’t a story with groundbreaking material and it’s rather predictable. I’m not saying it’s not entertaining, as it’s great chick lit, the perfect vacation read or what to pick up once you step off an emotional roller coaster like Labor Day. Or, you know, what to read at 1 a.m. when you’re freaking out over gray hair. Every reader gets something different out of each book he/she reads. All novels don’t have to be award winners or perfectly written to be enjoyable. You will hear more on my opinion of this later, I despise a book (or TV or movie) snob.

As a 10-year marketing veteran and geek though, this is where it gets fun. While Googling reviews of You Knew Me When, I came across this article on HuffPo Books from the release last fall. The book’s author, Emily Liebert, is a smart cookie. Since Katherine is an exec at a cosmetics company in the novel, Liebert teamed up with Zoya Nail Polish and both a fashion and jewelry designer to create products based on the main characters. Studios have been doing this with movies for years. Most recently for Skyfall, Hunger Games and let’s not forget the fashion and cosmetics empire Twilight built. There is already a plethora of, er, merchandise out there branded with 50 Shades of Grey, but it will only increase as August approaches. Make fun of me all you want, I’m not ashamed to say I CAN’T FRIGGIN’ WAIT. However, it’s quite unique and ambitious for a relatively unknown author and first-time novelist such as Liebert to step out and do it all herself for her initial major release. Gotta give her kudos for that.

On the Kindle now is Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which is an upcoming movie with a screenplay from Nick Hornby and starring Reese Witherspoon. Reese I could love again when she finally broke up with Jake Gyllenhaal. Clearly she realized he and I are soul mates…too bad he hasn’t yet. I figured it out 12 years ago; I’m getting impatient.

Xo, Nikki

What to read: Labor Day

6261961I have a confession to make. I read. A lot. There are few activities in this life that provide an all-encompassing, completely indulgent escape like reading a good book. It can sometimes put me in the best of moods (and sometimes a kinda crabby one…) I don’t read as quickly and as much as some people I know (my college roommate is a superhuman reader, it’s bananas). But I hold on my own. Although I still love going into a Barnes & Noble or especially a Half Price Books and/or an actual library (the smell, so fun!), I am on my Kindle 99.9% of the time. It did for my reading life what iTunes did to everyone’s music life. The next book is always RIGHT THERE. I’ve participated in the personal reading challenge on Goodreads for the past few years. 2012 I read 45 of 35 and 2012 45 of 45. I was really hoping for more, but I got stuck on this Ava Gardner bio that was snoresville so I lost some ground. This year I thought I would go out on a ledge and read TWO WHOLE MORE BOOKS.

A few weeks ago, I anxiously watched the Salinger documentary on Netlfix. Catcher in the Rye, albeit cliché, is one of my favorite books and we all know Salinger basically fell off the face, so I was intrigued when I saw the trailer. Should you be a fan of his writing, just Catcher or even a book nerd in general, take the time to watch the documentary. It’s every bit as interesting as I expected.

One of the most scandalous portions of the documentary was dedicated to interviews with Joyce Maynard, an author with whom Salinger had a tryst with when he was 53 and she in her late teens. He ended up treating her terribly in the end, but hey, she’s become a pretty successful writer herself. Some of the best parts of our lives come from some of the worst, right? One of her novels, Labor Day, caught my eye when I checked out her works on Amazon, as I’d already seen the movie trailer. Let’s be honest, those of us who were teens when Titanic opened will forever be in love with Kate Winslet, so of course I’d planned on seeing it. And when the documentary, the book and the upcoming movie all came together in my brain AND it appeared on BuzzFeed’s 16 Books to Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year, I chose it as my first book for 2014.

I am so glad I did. It’s super easy and quick to get through, very bittersweet and quite haunting. I won’t go into a detailed description because you are all smart ladies and know how to use the internet. It’s basically the story of a reclusive and broken single mother who, along with her son (from whose point of the view the story is told) are kinda sorta but not really taken hostage by an escaped convict. Adele (Winslet, the mom) and Frank (Josh Brolin, the convict) fall deeply in love. The kind of deep and passionate love you root and long for, despite the fact in this specific situation you know the inevitable outcome. Oh but you just don’t want it to end for them, especially poor Adele. After learning her whole story, you want her to have love again so very much.

The biggest thought I took away from this book is how one event, be it big (getting sorta kinda but not really held hostage by an escaped convict) or small (learning to make a pie, saying no to a person who’s throwing his/herself at you) can make a ginormous, lasting impact on your life. I’ve thought about this many times in my own personal journey. My greatest and most cherished example is going to work at the movie theater when I was 16. I just needed a job so I could make car payments. My then stepmom dropped me off at the mall one day so I could fill out some applications. The very first place I walked up to was the box office at the UA Golden Triangle 5. Upon completing the app, the assistant manager told me they were shorthanded that day and asked if I was willing to start. I called my stepmom and told her to pick me up at 6! That will be 18 years ago this July and just about every single thing that has happened to me since can be tied to that moment. It seemed so insignificant at the time, it was just a job. And I had such terrible hair! Who knew?!

Do you have one moment you look back on and think, well I’ll be…if that hadn’t happened… ?

Xo, Nikki

How to be: till we see the sun

DallasSunriseYes, I’m sitting here listening to One Direction. Don’t judge. Those cute little things just make me want to DANCE. And then I want to put them in my pockets and feed them Cheerios. Is that so wrong?

I have not been in a set daily routine in so long now and am officially disgruntled with it. Mostly because it’s affected my sleep habits. Or lack thereof. In my working days (oh how I miss thee) I could hit the pillow at 10 p.m. and sleep a solid 8-9 hours with NO problem. Now I’m apparently playing a really neat game to see how many times I can wake up per night. And oh, oh…how long I can stay awake each time! And which animal will notice I’m awake and want attention. It’s all so FUN.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if I could I would be a total night owl. Ask my college roommate. She is the exact same way. The two of us could easily stay up till 4 a.m. every day and sleep till 2 p.m. Throw in the ability to drink as much Cherry Coke and eat as many chocolate chip cookies from JD’s Chippery we can without weighing 725 lbs. a piece and you’ve got the BEST LIFE EVER. However, we all know responsible adult society calls for something entirely different. And since I’ve been unemployed, daily schedule chaos has ensued. I’m now determined to start getting up and working out first thing in the morning. I ALWAYS felt better when I worked out first thing. Yesterday? I didn’t work out till 9:30 p.m. Have NO idea why I couldn’t sleep till after 1 a.m. and had to take four Melatonin pills. Plus, I know for a fact maintaining a general routine and habits each day keeps me mentally and emotionally balanced.

I personally start each morning with a Spark. That’s AdvoCare’s energy drink. It comes in eight great flavors (I keep a steady rotation of grape, mandarin orange and pink lemonade). A lot of people have misconceptions about energy drinks because of what is sold in cans at you local 7-11. Rest assured, Spark is not like that. It’s rich in vitamins, good juju and you won’t have a total energy crash afterward.

Once I sit down with my Spark, I pick up my Kindle and read a daily devotional. Right now I’m using Joyce Meyer’s The Confident Woman Devotional: 365 Inspirations. I guarantee if you’re looking for a fantastic way to start your day, this is it. After Joyce I turn to Gaby. You’re going to hear a LOT about her. Right now I’m doing a second tour of duty through May Cause Miracles. It’s a 42-day meditation and pretty intense self-evaluation guide. I’m getting even more out of it the second time around. If you’re new to meditation or any practice of this kind, start with one of her earlier books, Spirit Junkie. This is the perfect combo, because as Gaby teaches, prayer is when we ask God or the universe (whichever you prefer) for what we desire and meditation is when we receive.

Once this is all over, I’m not ashamed to admit…I watch talk shows. I can’t help myself. The Broadcast (a Dallas version of The View), The Chew and Bethenny. I’ll make a heck of a housewife one day, y’all.

What’s your morning ritual? I challenge you to add one or two little things, like I have my Spark and my readings, to incorporate on a daily basis. These are special to YOU and should put a little smile on your face.

Xo, Nikki


Note: photo from The Dallas Voice. So pretty!