A Vintage Affair: A Review

Hi friends!

Well, grad school is over until the spring semester, I'm finally settled at my job, and our apartment is slowly being emptied of left-over boxes. Time to relax! It feels good to know that my spare time will no longer be filled up. I haven't been able to say that in almost three years, so it's definitely a must-needed break. I can get back to reading, exercising, laying out by the pool (!!!), watching movies, having date-nights, and actually not getting home from work and doing more work. LOVE.

Moving on...we're halfway through the Chick Lit Plus Reading Challenge! I'm having so much fun making excuses to read good books (not that I actually NEED one!). I have actually had the chance to read a few lovely novels this month, as opposed to the typical five or six, and one of them is A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff. Hmm...let's see...vintage clothing, a woman with a sad and mysterious secret, and a simply gorgeous cover. Sign me up!

A Vintage Affair: My 100 Word Summary


Phoebe Swift is quite the natural when it comes to vintage clothing; she's even opened her own shop called Village Vintage. But when it comes to life...let's just say it hasn't been all Chanel and Marc Jacobs. When Phoebe meets an elderly woman named Therese with a heartbreaking childhood secret, she begins to understand what it means to finally let go of the past...and look forward to the future.

A Vintage Affair: What I Think


Three words: Uh. May. ZING.

This book is not only incredibly well-researched, the intricate details of the clothing alone were enough to make me almost trip over my own tongue. Wolff's novel combines my love for history, fashion, and average people who do extraordinary things.

The characters embodied all that is good about humanity: the truth that our flaws, and mistakes, can be used to do incredible good for others. The book is based out of Blackheath, a suburb of London, so when I met Therese, who is both French and up in years, I wondered if her secret would have something to do with the Nazi occupation of western Europe and, more specifically, the Holocaust, which is a subject very close to my heart. And I was right. Obviously, I'm not going to give away the details of Therese's story, but it parallels Phoebe's struggle to forgive herself and provides the foundation for what becomes a sweet (and tear-jerking) friendship between the two women.

I say that the subject of the Holocaust is dear to me because, after I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time at age eleven, I began to write in a journal that I have kept for fourteen years. I found hope in words they way that Anne did, and I was irrevocably changed by what I learned was the basis for her struggle. At the age of twelve, I met the woman who became her (posthumous) step-sister, Eva Schloss.

So maybe I'm a little biased about the subject matter, but Wolff did a beautiful job of showcasing the depth of the human heart and the incredible power of forgiveness and redemption.

Until next time,

Wendi

Conversations with author Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar

Hi friends!

I only just graduated from college a few years ago, and I'm currently in graduate school (only one more paper to go and I'm done for the year! But that's neither here nor there...), so it hasn't been that long since I lived through the post-graduation humiliation of trying to assimilate into "adulthood". I read a quote once that summed up the journey so well I remember feeling relieved that I wasn't the only person in the world who felt totally lost:

"You think, six months ago I had a great on-campus job and social life. Now, I'm living at home, I have two friends and no academic stimulation for the first time in 20 years -- sitting in the basement, surfing the Internet, looking for work. It's like, wow, I was just studying the cultural history of aborigines and now I'm looking at jobs where the main duties are answering the phone and typing."


How very true! And this struggle is threaded throughout Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar's novel Little Miss Teacher, the perfect novel for anyone who has ever stumbled into the adult world and wondered "How did I get here and what the H do I do now?"


Read on to find out more about what Cassandra has to say on life, writing, and looking for answers :).


My Writing Identity
I have always been a writer and known I would write books, but one concept with which I continue to struggle is that of my writing identity.  What kind of writer am I, and where do I fit?  What type(s) of books am I best at writing?
  As a child and preteen, I stuck with picture books.  I wrote and illustrated story after story, actually writing some pretty good ones, although I’m afraid my artistic talent peaked in about third grade.  “The Pig Who Hated Being Pink” was one of my better youthful attempts; my hand-made book was checked out so frequently from my elementary school library that it literally fell apart.  Another strong effort was a rhyming Halloween book called “Williebelle Witch.”  I still remember the first sentence:  “Williebelle Witch had to make the punch for the annual Halloween witches’ brunch.”  (It’s quite a different first line than that of Little Miss Teacher!)   
As I entered my teenage years, my main characters shifted from pigs and cartoonish witches to teenage girls.  I can’t begin to imagine how many novels I started and abandoned during this time; I remember a murder mystery that reached several chapters in length only to fall flat.  It’s a shame I didn’t attempt more short stories during this time; I had tons of ideas, but I lacked the discipline and stamina to complete a novel. 
 In college, I dabbled in literary fiction.  I wrote a short story of which I remember being particularly proud; I even won a writing contest for it.  However, as much as I love reading these types of books, I only managed a few decent pieces.  Now that I’m older (and wiser?), maybe I’ll try this genre again.
 Near the end of college, I tackled my first major writing project:  a young adult (today, it would be called middle-grade for the age range) mystery with a slight supernatural element.  I finished a draft in a month and picked it up again every summer for the next few years to revise it.  In The Hidden Diary, Alyssa Morgan is a 12-year-old girl recovering from her parents’ divorce; she moves into an old house with her mom and little brother and uncovers a crime from decades earlier.  I think it’s interesting to contrast her with Candace from Little Miss Teacher; though Candace is an adult and Alyssa is a child, Candace is very much concerned about her own struggles with love and work, while Alyssa is more focused on the lives of others.     
 After The Hidden Diary, I wrote a novella about a group of twenty-somethings traveling to Amsterdam.  This project was different from anything I had written before or have written since.  For one thing, my main character was- gasp- male.  Derek never fully developed for me, which is probably why that ship sank.  I didn’t get to know him the way I have my other main characters; he never became someone I really cared about.  For one, my heart didn’tbreak when his did.  As much as I believe that there’s a strong story buried somewhere in that mess, it just failed to materialize into anything substantial.  Maybe I’ll pick it up again someday.
 Four years ago, I finally decided to follow the old advice:  Write what you know.  That’s when I “met” Candace, a high school English teacher fresh from college.  Candace has hopes, dreams, and plenty of complexes to keep her both human and interesting.  She was a fictional character whose triumphs and disappointments made me feel something.  Even though I created her, and she was entirely at my mercy, I couldn’t help but be proud of her when she did well and feel sad when she was upset.  As I wrote Candace’s story, I became a writer of what I love:  chick lit.  This role felt as comfortable as those very famous traveling pants.
 So, what have I determined about myself as a writer?  I have written in several different genres, accomplishing whole novels in middle-grade fiction and chick lit.  Am I allowed to be both?  Am I allowed to be all?  I plan on starting a writing project soon and need to know:  Should I stick with chick lit or go back to adolescence?  Should Little Miss Teacher get a second year in the classroom, or should Candace just give up?  I sit here at my faithful laptop searching for an answer. 
Thanks, Cassandra, for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts! 
If you want to know more about this fabulous author's novel Little Miss Teacher, read on...
Little Miss Teacher: My 100 Word Summary
Candace Turner is a brand-new high school teacher, fresh out of college and eager to take on the world. Her students are a mixed breed of apathetic and obnoxious, and her playboy co-worker is a whole separate issue altogether. Trying to balance her job with her personal life, Candace stumbles more than once as she learns how to find her identity in a post-college world that's more awkward than adolescence.
Little Miss Teacher: What I Think
I'm not sure about word count here, but at a brief 199 pages I would estimate Little Miss Teacher is somewhere between 40,000-50,000 words, which makes it read more like a novella than a fully-developed novel. I understand the difficulty in creating a story that can captivate the reader, as I got stuck on my own novel around 42,000 words and spent the next month deleting everything I wrote. But, ultimately, I latched on to Candace because I spent my first year out of college bouncing around with no direction, but lots of hope for the future. It was the most uncertain time of my life, and Cassandra captures the essence of that strange middle place very well. 
Another great BIG thanks to Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar for taking the time to stop by and say hello! If you'd like to learn more about her, or purchase your own copy of Little Miss Teacher (and you SHOULD!), please visit Cassandra on Facebook or click here to head on over to Amazon and make your purchase.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Until next time,
Wendi

Style

Hi friends!

I don't talk about this very much, but I absolutely adore fashion. I'm inspired by vintage looks, and some of my favorite eras are the Edwardian 1910s (think Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), the 1940s pin-up glam, and the flapper look of the 1920s (I guess I pretty much obsessed with the first half of the twentieth century). I love statement pieces, like big hats, long multi-layered necklaces, cameos, bright-colored heels...but even though I own some lovely articles of clothing, I often don't take the time to put together outfits that truly express my interest in fashion. I'd say I'm pretty trendy, but I rarely take risks like I secretly want to!

Well, one of my co-workers was talking to me about this very subject over lunch. We decided that, at least once a week, we were going to step out of the box and really dress up. It's kind of a lost art, isn't it? I would love to see men walking around in fedoras or pageboys like they did "back then"...most of us just go throughout our days looking barely put together. Hats, jewelry, and shoes can really complete a look, and I want to start utilizing my closet in ways I never have! Plus, Hubby and I completed a budget for ourselves (Hooray! I'm sincerely very excited about having something to work towards...no debt!) and it's time to get creative with my style instead of just adding more and more clothing to the closet (and decreasing the numbers in my bank account). Who wants to do a clothing swap? DIY? Anyone? I'm game if you are.

For my first "look", I'm going for the Megan Fox-inspired retro glam (think loose curls, red lips) and pair it with my structured black blazer, skinny jeans, loose cotton tee, and peep-toes. Nothing too drastic or groundbreaking (I've worn the outfit tons, just not with the makeup and hair). I don't have a photo of myself just yet, so here's a few ideas to tide you over for now:

This girl could seriously
use some lessons from Emily Post,
but she's got glam down to a T...gorgeous!
I'll try and for a more bold red on the lips.
Oh, if only my heels were Louboutins!

Staples that can be used in many other styles.
I'll work in peep-toe heels (see below)
and maybe a white tee, instead of black.


The beautiful cameo necklace my co-worker, Chelsea, gave me
(and, of course, I had to display it using Lauren Conrad's
fabulous guide to style!)
Until next time!

Wendi

Some Advice from Elizabeth Musser

Hi friends!

Last night, I left work and headed straight over to Decatur to attend a book reading by author Elizabeth Musser. She writes inspirational fiction (i.e. fiction with some overarching or even dominant Christian themes), and I just finished reading her most recent novel The Sweetest Thing. My goodness, people, this is a FABULOUS book! In the narrative, Musser does what I only dream of doing:

She reconciles the dirty, messy facts of life (and, sometimes, the downright ugly) with the relevance of God's Word (as a side note: during the Q&A session, I asked Musser how she did this so well and she said, "Jesus was a storyteller. He didn't beat people over the head about this or that. He met them where they were." You're welcome, fellow attendees. I was pretty proud of that question...and her answer!).

Musser's novel is about two young girls, Dobbs and Perri, living in Atlanta in the early 1930s, going to school during the Great Depression, and learning about life, love, and faith together. It's so much more than that, but I want you to go pick it up and read it for yourself. Trust me...you'll love it.

The first half of the twentieth century is incredibly appealing to me, and the figure on the front cover (as you can see) pretty much defines the 20s and 30s, with her finger waves and delicate lace. I picked up the book at Barnes and Noble and promptly purchased it after discovering a photo of the (FABULOUS!) Fox Theater on the back.


Another Atlanta writer? I thought. Sign me up!


And I fell in love with yet another author...which brings me back to last night.

Musser was a funny speaker. She greeted us in French because she and her husband have lived the last 30 years of their marriage in Lyonne, France, working in the mission field. She went on to talk to us about growing up in Atlanta, and the details of her novel. Having attended the Westminster School (which grew out of Washington Seminary, the school Perri and Dobbs attend in The Sweetest Thing), Musser understood a few things about wealth and social status in the prestigious area of Buckhead. Her grandmother, Alice, was a student at Washington Seminary in the 1930s, and she was the inspiration behind Perri. After Musser's grandmother passed away, the family found a trunk filled with her old diaries, where she had kept a record of all the social events she'd experienced during the years of the Great Depression. What a treasure!

Musser's grandmother's diary...lovely vintage!

The white arrow is pointing to a photo of
 Elizabeth Musser's beautiful, and stylish,
 grandmother in her 1931 yearbook from
Washington Seminary.

May Day festivities!


I enjoyed the reading because I saw a little of myself in Musser, who loves God and writes well. She made a comment about growing up in Buckhead, "where Jesus and Jaguars go hand in hand", and how her life in missions was truly about God allowing her to need Him in order to survive. Musser talked further about growing up in comfort, but realizing, as she spent her first tough years supporting dried-up little churches in France, that "the Lord will keep us in a place where we need Him so that we don't forget it". I scrambled for a pencil to write that down, because it's so very, very true. But isn't it comforting? That Christ will always prove His faithfulness to us if we let Him?

Before we left, I met with Musser at the signing table, where she wrote a greeting inside my book, and I told her that I, too, am a writer.

"You want some of my quick, two-second advice?" she asked sweetly, after I told her a little about my struggle finding an agent.

"Of course!" I chimed, happy like a little school girl.

"Go to a writer's conference," she replied, handing my signed copy of The Sweetest Thing over to me. "You'll meet agents and publishers and get critiques on your work. You may even find an agent there, if they like what you've given them."

Um, OKAY!

Needless to say, it was quite the night for me. I'm starstruck easily, and meeting Elizabeth Musser was the highlight of my past few overwhelming weeks. She reminded me how much fun it is to write, and it's a lesson I won't soon forget.

"I write fiction," Musser said to her audience,"but what I ultimately want to convey is the truth."

Until next time,

Wendi

Becoming a Disciple

Hi friends!

Last night I had dinner with a few members of my Kenya team, and they inspired me to sit down and write this post today. It's about time I tell you guys more about the trip, why I'm going, and how I got here in the first place.

As you know, if you've been following me here for any length of time, I love Jesus. It sounds plain and simple but, in reality, my relationship with Him is anything but...it's complicated and messy and beautiful and raw. My entire life has been centered on this idea of religion and God and what His Son did for the world, and I was blessed to grow up in a home that cherished these things. At an early age, I claimed Jesus for myself, and asked Him to be my Savior. But, as most teenagers will do, I stepped away from God as a Person and moved more towards God as a judge. My "good" actions in high school and early college were filtered through a mindset of rules and regulations, not love and grace. As a junior in college, I began to realize just how incredibly I was loved by God, and the reality of what Jesus had given up for me became tangible...I saw His work in my family of friends, the people I spent most of my time with, and the opportunities that surrounded me at Georgia Southern. I grew exponentially in my four years there, and when I look back on those times I am overwhelmed by God's faithfulness to me. He kept me close and taught me how to see the world through His eyes.

After I got married in 2008, my life became a constant series of transitions, as you well know. My husband was finishing up his internship with the Falcons, and moving every eight or nine months to other temporary positions with teams like the Hawks and Thashers until, finally, he settled back into sales and marketing with the Falcons. I worked at Strayer University, started grad school, and completed a publishing internship where I published my first book. Pierce and I moved in with his parents, then on to Marietta, followed by a small place in downtown Atlanta, until we finally settled (last weekend) in an apartment near Buckhead. As you can see, our lives have been constantly changing. God is moving, and we've been doing our best to let our choices be guided by Him...but, if I'm being honest, it has been the biggest challenge of my faith. For me, the struggle was, and still is, how to be obedient and honor God with all that He has given me in my marriage and my life. It's so easy to become a product of my culture, and fall into a busy routine where everything comes second to Christ. In short, that challenge is exactly where I am on this journey.

Last year, Pierce and I began attending Buckhead Church, and from there we joined a small group with other married couples. In January, Andy Stanley did a series called Big Church, where he discussed the Book of Acts and the movement of faith that grew from the work of the first century Christians and what they had witnessed upon Jesus' death. At the same time, I was studying a book titled Radical, and I was reading about how comfortable Americans often become in their middle-class faith. I certainly saw the truth of that statement in my own life. One afternoon, I was reading in Acts 5:40-41 where Paul writes in detail about the suffering that Peter and John endured because of their unrelenting desire to tell the world about Christ:

"And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then [Peter and John] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored for the Name."

This verse completely rocked my world! As clearly as if Jesus were sitting beside me, I heard the Spirit say how much He adored me, and how He desired that I would know the joy of what had been given to me through Christ. I realized that, in all my efforts to be good, I was missing out on the risk and adventure of a relationship with the Living God! My shallow faith was in direct contrast to Peter and John, who celebrated their suffering because it revealed their unworthiness without Jesus. I began to cry because I felt so relieved...I didn't want to go forward in the way I had been living and God had shown me how to change it. I wanted to take risks, and rely on God's provision when I had no idea what would happen next. I wanted to be obedient to His Spirit and grow with Him.

In short, I realized I was no longer comfortable with just being comfortable.

As a result, I applied for the Kenya trip with Buckhead Church and the 410 Bridge. I had thought about applying in 2010, but Pierce patiently questioned my motivation. I knew it was purely selfish. I believed going to Kenya would be fun, and not much more than that. Another stamp on my passport...and so I waited. In January of 2011, I applied online and was accepted in May! I believe that God is working through our team, and through me, to accomplish some extraordinary things in Kenya, and I can't wait to see what He does with our service there.

I hope that you will help support me in my efforts to serve in the community of Ngaamba. We’ll be serving them through community projects, such as digging ditches to lay pipe for water, building fences, or teaching in classrooms. Our purpose there is to simply love as Christ loved: without condition and without rules. I have no doubt that the people of Kenya will teach us more than we can imagine in return. In whatever way you can give, whether it be with prayer, through a donation, or both, I am choosing to write this because your audience here on ABC has brought so much joy to my life, and I want to share that joy with you.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, you can go online to my fundraising page and donate there. The instructions are listed below:

1)      Log on to http://my410bridge.org/wknunner. This is a direct link to my page.
2)      Scroll down and you’ll see a thermometer that measures by fundraising progress. Click on the “Donate” button below.
3)      You will be taken to a page where you will choose your donation amount and type in your name and contact information (there is also an option to donate anonymously, if you wish to do that).
4)      Click “Continue to Payment”
5)      You will see a confirmation page for your records, which you can print out and file if you need it.


      If, for some reason, I do not raise enough money to go to Kenya, your contribution will either be used to help support my team, or to be used for another trip at a later date. If you have any questions, please let me know!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter (I know it’s long!). And thank you for supporting me as I prepare to serve in Kenya! It means more than I can say.

      Until next time,

      Wendi

Family Pieces: A Review

Hi friends!

I just noticed that, following this entry, I only have 8 more posts to go before ABC reaches 100! I'll have to celebrate with a little victory dance...or a margarita. Oh! And I've got one more follower who just joined this week, which brings the number up to 21...so now we should definitely celebrate with a margarita!

The 2011 Summer Blog Tour continues as author Misa Rush stops by to share her thoughts on writing and life. I just finished reading her novel Family Pieces and I have to say it was such a great read! Family dramas are a favorite of mine, and Family Pieces does not disappoint! Please take a minute to read what this fabulous author has to say about her own experiences and then check out my review!

A Bundle of Contradictions is uber-proud to present....Family Pieces author Misa Rush! 

Hi!  Thank you, Wendi, for allowing me to guest post.

My life has been, is, and probably always will be busy. Like all moms, it is easy to fill every moment of the day juggling what needs to be done, what has to be done and what can be done to make a difference. I sometimes think it would be nice to slow down, but I’m not sure if I’m personally capable of that. I have a love/hate relationship with challenges. If one is presented to me, I simply have to do it to prove to myself that I can. Writing had always come easily to me and I had always said I wanted to write a book – someday… so, when my husband said, “Then why don’t you do it?” what was I to do?

I’ve also always believed everything happens for a reason. Although some of my experiences came long before I started to write my novel, they certainly molded my character. Gymnastics, at an early age, taught me discipline and perseverance. Four hour practices, six days a week for eighteen years might not be for everyone. Yet, the life lessons it taught me was what kept me writing on days that life wasn’t so sweet. I started writing my novel when my daughter was two. From beginning to end, the book took almost two years to write. During those years, I endured twelve weeks of morning sickness only to learn my pregnancy miscarried at nine weeks. My next pregnancy went relatively smoothly, until my son stopped breathing after he was born. He was released after eight days in the NICU, but for months I wouldn’t sleep for fear that he’d stop breathing. During this time, working on my novel provided an escape from reality. 

As a mother, my hope is that my children will follow their dreams. But what example was I setting if I didn’t give my own dream a shot? I think when you commit to something, you can’t give up. Just like being at mile 24 of a marathon, your legs ache, your mind says quit, but the thought of the finish line keeps you going.  Although all my experiences definitely contributed, the idea of someday holding my book in my hands ultimately drove its completion.  My daughter (now five) often grabs the book and flips through the pages. There is nothing more satisfying then her saying “This is my mommy’s book.”


Thanks, Misa, for all your insight and the lovely post!

Family Pieces: My 100 Word Summary

Karsen Woods seems to have the perfect life: a handsome boyfriend, a loving family, and a busy social life.  The homemade puzzle necklace she wears, created by her grandfather, serves as a link to her family back home while she's away at college...but when her mother suddenly passes away, Karsen's charmed life turns into a nightmare as she struggles to understand the links that truly holds her family together.

Family Pieces: What I Think


This story made me think about my own family, along with all the tragedy, joy, and drama we've experienced. As I have said before, this connection to the reader is of the utmost importance, and Misa Rush is a rare author who has the ability to both write well and hold my attention. It would seem like a common talent, with so many books being published every day, but I think we can all agree that not every writer can actually do both of these things and do them long enough to keep their reader captivated for the length of a novel.

Misa Rush did that and more with Family Pieces.

It wasn't just Karsen who interested me; in fact, Addison, with her complexity of spirit, kept me coming back for more. She was the character who threw a wrench in the works, and I'm always drawn to the types of people (whether real or imaginary) who are not necessarily the most like-able at first. 

I highly recommend Family Pieces for your summer reading list! To learn more about Misa Rush, click here to visit her site and pick up a copy of Family Pieces for your own collection.

Thanks again, Misa, for sharing your thoughts with us! I look forward to more of your work.

Until next time, 

Wendi


A Soft Place to Land: A Review

Hi friends!

I know, I know.

Today is June and my May review for the Chick Lit Plus Reading Challenge is late. I suck at life!

Forgive me?

I wanted to post last night, but homework and writing deadlines for work got in the way. So much to do, so little time! But I am here now, and my priority is offering up a yummy morsel for you guys to chew on when you've got some time to read a good (fabulous!) book. So here we go...


A Soft Place to Land: My 100 Word Summary


When Naomi and Phil Harrison die in a tragic plane crash over the Grand Canyon, their two young daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are sent to live across the country from one another: Julia with her biological father and passive/aggressive stepmother in West Virginia, and Ruthie with her eccentric, but loving, aunt and uncle in San Francisco. As their worlds grow in different directions, Ruthie and Julia try to keep their close relationship strong...even as they discover things they never thought possible.

A Soft Place to Land: What I Think


I originally picked up this book because I loved the cover, and, if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you'll remember that when I opened it I discovered that it was autographed by the author, Atlanta-native Susan Rebecca White. I think fate keeps drawing me to these fabulous Southern (usually Georgian) writers, and I would like to thank fate for that! <3 While I discovered that A Soft Place to Land leans more towards the category of women's fiction, rather than chick lit, much of the novel is geared towards self-discovery, which is a must-have for either genre.

I loved both girls in this novel, as I saw a little of myself in each of them. Julia is strong, stubborn, and free-spirited. And she's a writer (an incredible one, at that...which, I suppose, just means that Susan Rebecca White is incredible...which she is!). Ruthie is the youngest daughter, sweet and kind, with a people-pleasing kind of attitude. And what White does so well here is connect what seem like opposing personalities and show us their similarities. Ruthie and Julia adore one another, even when they hate each other, and I saw so much of my own sisterly relationships in them.

A Soft Place to Land is funny, heart-breaking, and smart. Plus, it will make you want to call you sisters and tell them you love 'em...what else could you ask for?

Read more about Susan Rebecca White on her website, and pick up your copy of A Soft Place to Land at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble (if you're lucky, it will be autographed!).

Until next time,

Wendi