Our Favorite Gadget Cases Spotted on Pinterest

April 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm , by

With the growing popularity of so many mobile devices, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of black, gray, and white gadgets. But there are just as many cute cases to set you apart from the pack and many of them are popping up on Pinterest. Check out my favorite pins this week and turn your geeky gadget into palm candy

Hardshell iPhone Case

For more ideas, check out our Case Closed board on Pinterest.

Guest Blog: Humor is the Best Therapy and Other Writing Lessons from THE Sweet Potato Queen

April 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm , by

Jill Conner Browne (aka THE Sweet Potato Queen) is the multiple #1 New York Times bestselling, laugh-out-loud funny leader of the Sweet Potato Queens—a movement that boasts some 6,200 chapters in more than 37 countries. Known for her bawdy, tongue-in-cheek humor, and for spreading what she refers to as “sparkle,” Browne started her reign when she and a few friends decided to enter the Jackson, Mississippi, St. Patrick’s Parade in 1982. The Sweet Potato Queens focus on sisterhood, self-esteem (you’re never too old or too anything to be a Queen) and positive thinking. Their annual Zippity Doo Dah Parade benefits the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, which just dedicated an examination room named for the group in its new ER.

The book that launched Browne was The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, a kind of manifesto for the movement, which came out in 1999. Here, Browne writes about the events that gave rise to the ninth book in the series, Fat Is the New 30: The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life, out this month.

* * *

Since 1999, I have cranked out a funny book about my life as THE Sweet Potato Queen every year or so and had more than my share of success. Out of eight books, all attained “bestseller” status with two actually reaching that much-coveted spot on the Only List That Really Matters: #1 on the New York Times list.

In 2009, I’d have to say my status as a writer felt pretty safe and secure—as did my whole life, truth be told. Married to a wonderful man (The Cutest Boy in the World), my only child doing well in college, a houseful of dogs and cats—happy as a pig in the sunshine would not be overstating my condition.

Life was perfect—until one day, it wasn’t anymore. “Mama fell.” How many friends have told me sad stories that began with those two words? Every minute of every hour of every day for six months, my husband and I were my mother’s total caregivers. Her hospital bed was literally in our bedroom with us until she died.

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Book Club Guest Blog: The Language of Flowers and Nature vs. Nuture

April 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm , by

Todays’s post is by Neely Kennedy of Reading Group Choices, a leading online resource for book club tips and discussible selections.

In The Language of Flowers, the LHJ Book Club pick for May, author Vanessa Diffenbaugh tells the moving story of Victoria Jones, a young woman whose journey through the foster-care system has taught her to be untrusting of herself, the world, and the people in it.  Isolated and alone, only her treasured Victorian language of flowers allows her to communicate her true emotions. But until she meets a young man in a flower market, only she understands the message.

Desperate to survive following emancipation from foster care at age eighteen, Victoria is forced to answer the question … “Can we grow past our limitations?”  Below are examples from the book that show, for Victoria, flowers are not only a way to communicate, but a symbol of her ability to transcend her personal history.

Message of Hope
Excited to finally have the tools to communicate, Victoria gives her foster mother thistle, a symbol of her hatred for mankind, and  ironically it bonds them to each other.

“Thistle!” I said, handing her the jar. “For you,” I added. I reached out awkwardly and patted her once on the shoulder. It was perhaps the first time in my entire life I had initiated contact with another human being-at least the first time in my memory.

New Beginnings
Just before her eighteenth birthday, Victoria is warned she must find a job in order to remain in the group home, or else be homeless, but instead she spends her days nurturing her first garden.

“Back in my room, I spread out the shocked roots gently, covered them with the nutrient-rich soil, and watered deeply. The milk jugs drained right onto the carpet, and as the days passed, weeds began to sprout from the worn fiber.” 

Read more below for more discussion points — but they contain some spoilers!


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Book Club Wrap-Up: Signs of Life

April 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm , by

Natalie Taylor kept us in stitches (and near a box of tissues), with her hilarious yet gut-wrenching memoir, Signs of Life, last month. She unabashedly allowed readers to dive into her psyche during the months after the sudden death of her husband and birth of her first-born son. And we’re so glad that Natalie continued to be candid with us all month long, game for a Q&A and Facebook chat about the book. If you haven’t yet picked up Signs of Life, read her letter to readers now–you’ll want to run out to the nearest book store by the second paragraph.

But now that our May issue is officially on newsstands (doesn’t cover star Melissa McCarthy look great?), it’s time to reveal our next pick! This month, we’re reading The Language of Flowers, the illustrious debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, a true labor of love. Though the story of a young woman aging out of the foster care system and finding joy in the world of flowers is fictional, Diffenbaugh means it to be a symbol of a cause dear to her heart—creating a better outlook on life for the many young people who leave the foster care system each year. Find out more about why this is so important to Diffenbaugh in her Q&A with us, and her letter to readers. And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about the book all month long.

We’re hosting a live Facebook chat with Vanessa Diffenbaugh on Thursday, April 26 at 1:00pm EST! Mark your calendars, and come to our wall to ask Vanessa a question about The Language of Flowers, her life as a writer, or her philanthropic efforts. We hope to see you there!

Guest Blog: What it Was Like to Record My Own Audiobook (and a giveaway!)

April 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm , by

In her twelve best-selling novels (Promises to Keep, To Have and to Hold, The Beach House), British-born writer Jane Green has consistently mined the very issues that LHJ readers hold most dear—marriage, motherhood, friendship, home. Green’s latest, Another Piece of My Heart, takes on the subject of blended families. Using alternating points-of-view, Green tells the story of how Andi’s marriage is threatened by the hostility and rebelliousness of her husband’s teenage daughter, Emily. Like Green’s other books, Another Piece of My Heart immediately shot to the top of the bestseller lists and has been released in an audio version. (We at LHJ are big fans of audiobooks! Can you say “multi-tasking”?) But this time, instead of having the book read by a professional actress, Green’s publisher agreed to let the author narrate the audiobook herself. Here’s Green’s account of the experience—and click here to listen to a sample of the result.

Jane Green in the recording studio, reading her latest novel, Another Piece of My Heart, for its release as an audiobook.

Despite my love of performing, I would have made a horrible actress. The last time I thought about acting was at University, where I followed my gang of friends—all actors—to their auditions, and somehow found myself on stage during a student production of Cabaret, doing a rather dismal and painfully self-conscious Sally Bowles.

I laid my acting dreams to rest, but have always indulged my secret desire by throwing myself fully into character when reading my books aloud at events, dreaming of the day I might be allowed to read my own audiobook.

The publishing people in charge smiled indulgently. Every author thinks they can read their own book, they said. Few of them are any good, they said. Eventually, skepticism written all over their faces, they agreed to let me audition, and I gave it my all as I became first Andi, then Emily, switching back to the narrator.

I passed the test, despite having a very British accent, for my very American book, and blocked several days out of my diary to sit in a small cubicle in New York to read the novel I had worked so hard on.

I loved every minute of the recording, but it was an eye-opener. Reading the book out loud threw up every mistake, every repetition, every flat sentence that could have been better. I made changes where I could—I still had two weeks to get final edits in—and vowed to read my books aloud in future before handing them in, if only to catch all those mistakes. Finding unique voices for each character was also hard for me, as a non-actress. Minor characters would appear whom I had completely forgotten about, leaving me with no idea what they were supposed to sound like in order to differentiate them from the others.

The response has been mixed, the biggest criticism being the issue of having an English voice read American characters, which I understand. I’d love to try again, although I recognize now how hard it is—and, perhaps, why novels should be read by actors. They bring a unique dimension to the task. Having said that, let me remind everything that it was my first time. And were I to be invited to read the next book, I would make two changes:

First, I would ensure I have a different voice for each and every character.

And second, at least one of those characters will be English!

Want to listen to Green read her fabulous book? You’re in luck! We’re giving away 10 copies of the Another Piece of My Heart audiobook! Just post a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win.

Official Rules

Featured Book Club of the Month – Fairfield, CT

March 22, 2012 at 10:16 am , by

The ladies of the Edgewood Road Book Club have been meeting for four years, and in that time their group has grown from nine to 14 dedicated, book-lovin’ members. “Having long wanted to share my love of reading and discussion, I first brought the group together,” says member Sharon Daly. “We are a wonderful mix of middle-aged and thirty-something women, and I appreciate the different perspectives we bring to the group, in addition to the support and friendship we provide each other.”

Don’t they look like a fun bunch? I asked them a bit more about what they love about their group and for their favorite reads!

Is there anything special you’ve done for your meetings?

“We’ve had two theme dinners—a Southern feast for a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help, and a French potluck for Julie & Julia. Authors have also called into our meetings to discuss their books with us, like Jeffrey Zaslow when we read The Girls from Ames, and Warren St. John when we read Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. I’m a writer myself, so it’s fascinating to hear what motivates and inspires these authors.” – Amanda Cuda Swavy

What’s your favorite book the club has read together?

“One of our favorite books was Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, which is about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974. It was one of the most profound books we have read, and we all felt that the way the characters’ lives intertwined was genius. It’s a commentary on life in New York in the 70′s, but there were also many parallels to life today.” – Sharon Daly

Everyone’s super busy these days. Why is it important to you to make time to read and get together?

“Discussing books with good friends over wine is enlightening, and a wonderful way to spend an evening. Plus, even though we have a TV with 3000 channels, I still find there is nothing to watch! So I love to read.” – Ann Marie Curtin

“Reading opens our minds to understanding the human condition, and sharing insights with other women is so affirming. The support we give each other is such a gift.” – Sharon Daly

“I’ve come to cherish the friendships I’ve made with the women in the group, and sharing our feelings about the books has led us to open up to each other in other ways, as well. The book group is a place where I feel safe and can relax. It’s one the few things I do just for myself, and it has made me happier.” – Amanda Cuda Swavy

Interested in a chance at having your book club featured on our blog or in the magazine? Tell us about your group here!


Book News: Playdate … for Adults Only

March 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm , by

Entertainment journalist Thelma Adams’s novel Playdate, just out in paperback, explores the minefields of modern marriage with humor and sass. But Playdate is no empty romp. In addition to parenting precocious pre-teens, the protagonists—couples Lance and Darlene and Alec and Wren—are dealing with complex issues. Lance, an unemployed weatherman, is married to Darlene, a restaurateur, who maintains an inappropriate flirtation with her restaurant’s financier, Alec, who is married to Wren, a yogi, who is having an affair with Lance. Got that? If that love quadrangle weren’t dizzying enough, a fierce forest fire is menacing their comfortable upper-middle-class California enclave. We asked Adams to talk about the game plan behind Playdate.

You’ve been a film critic and entertainment writer for almost 30 years. How did that experience inform your first novel, which is about marriage and relationships?

I am a married film critic and entertainment writer with relationships. Some of which, I confess, are a little convoluted. This novel began as an idea for a screenplay: What if we melded Warren Beatty’s handsome rootless philanderer in Shampoo with Michael Keaton’s overwhelmed dad in Mr. Mom? It seemed like a funny concept. However, as it turned out, I’m a prose girl. The movie idea morphed into a novel.

With his sensitive nature and commitment to parenting, Lance is the heart and soul of the book. But he’s also having an affair. Was it hard to construct a sympathetic cheater?

Making Lance sympathetic without demonizing his wife Darlene was one of the great challenges of the book. Personally, I am the daughter of a relatively sympathetic cheater. My dad was no saint, but he was no demon either. I was a daddy’s little girl who adored her father, and growing up we had this kind of very easy, affectionate, unconditional love. And then, when I was in my early twenties, I discovered that I’d lived in a house where a pattern of infidelity on my father’s side gutted my mother. Being daddy’s little girl was suddenly a difficult position to have within the family politics. And, on top of that, when I found out about my father, I was still crying over a post-college live-in relationship with a serial cheater with whom I was crazy in love. That’s a long time ago, but fidelity, and understanding how infidelity molds a family, and a relationship, has been central to a lot of my writing. In the end, I came to understand my father, which is not exactly the same as forgiving, through my love for Lance and [his daughter] Belle. Read more