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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Currently Reading: The Maggie Hope Mysteries

A couple months ago I was browsing the International Spy Museum gift shop. A bookshelf by the back registers caught my eye. On the cover of one book was an art deco propaganda-worn graphic of a young woman with crayon-worthy red hair and the title "Mr. Churchill's Secretary" in a mod font. Without command, my hands snatched up the book. I started scanning the synopsis.

My time with Jane and her husband, Vincent, were coming to an end and I needed somewhere new to start. Light Googling had proven to me that there was nothing like the Glamourist Histories that I was willing to get into. (I don't think I'm ready for Sense & Sensibility & Seamonsters...) All seemed lost until this chance meeting in a museum gift shop. A book about London during World War II with smart women and espionage was sure to have me hooked. And it might be just the thing you were looking for as well.

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase goods or services through links contained in this post I may be compensated by the website, brand, or product. All the opinions in this post are my own. 

Currently Reading: The Maggie Hope Mysteries - a story of a young girl coming of age and espionage in WWII London

The Background

The Maggie Hope Mysteries is a New York Times Bestselling series written by the quirky and smart Susan Elia MacNeal. The story follows Maggie Hope, a once-aspiring mathematician who grew up in the United States, and her friends who are anxious to help Great Britain in its fight against Nazi Fascism. The journey from a band of patriotic flatmates to high clearance agents working for Churchill himself is one to obsess over. With diverse, independent characters and an offbeat perspective on the time period, each installment of The Maggie Hope Mysteries is worth the late, late nights and the last minute searches for the  next book in the series. I was crushed when I found out the next book in the series isn't even out yet! You should see the desperate email to my library in search of the next book. So "currently reading" might be better said "currently waiting" haha.

The five novels so far are highly entertaining. MacNeal does a fantastic job of making you feel like an insider to the Allied forces and their efforts in the early 1940s. I love that the books incorporate dual perspectives - British and American - on culture, strategy, and politics during the War. Thanks to the differing cultural expectations and the intrigue, readers have the chance to hear well-known events and characters retold in a new light. The historical notes are a great bonus offering extra detail and some basis for the more interesting conspiracies which MacNeal chooses to highlight. About 25% of my time with the books was spent online doing my own research. A book that is entertaining AND makes you curious is definitely on my list of must-reads.

The Best & The Bad

Admittedly I started out the series wondering why I kept reading. Then I found myself burning through them as fast as I could find the next title. The stories suck you in without your knowing it! That might have a little something to do with MacNeal's consistent nod to the cliff hanger. The book would end and I'd NEED to know what happened next. I tip my hat to you, good lady.

The best part of the series has to be the way MacNeal presents the imperfectness of decision-making during the War. As a teacher and fan of history I was impressed by the portrayal of life-and-death questions being answered with more than a simple "yes" or "no." Powerful people were making powerful moves, and that is evident throughout the text with intentional conversation between all levels of characters. The stories strive for balance in explaining the reasons behind going to war, etc. Sure there was hope for positive results, but these world leaders also contradicted themselves in these endeavors. Even a simple reference to this is important to a well-balanced story.

I also appreciate the seemingly tangent stories that are mixed in among the spying and warring. Susan Elia MacNeal often reminds readers that "there's a war going on." But she also reminds us that, despite the repeated mantra, there is more to the story. Social and economic questions were being debated on both sides of the pond both in the context of war and without. Race, homosexuality, propaganda, family, terrorism - they all have strong storylines throughout the novels. However, I do feel that the discussion was a little too open and relaxed. Many may have felt as open-minded and accepting as the characters in the series, but I would say that the majority opinion was much more rigid. For that opinion to not have a lasting effect on the characters is a bit unrealistic. Still the mention of these topics within the text adds to the perspective of the books which is what makes the series its own.

On a lesser note, I do wish the romance worked out differently in the books. At times the intimate relationships in the story seem *too* realistic and logical. Just once I would like for it to get messy enough to work out in the end. I've got my fingers crossed for Maggie in the upcoming release - #OTL.

More Books

I will be counting down the days until The Queen's Accomplice debuts on October 4, 2016. Until then I'll have to fill my time with something... First, I'm digging into a nonfiction reading challenge I'm hosting over the Summer (deets coming next week) and getting back to my roots with Harry Potter.

When I am done with that I might try The Maisie Dobbs Novels by Jaqueline Winspear, also a New York Times Bestselling series, or Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen which are set in Britain during World War II as well. That last one sounds like fun.

Stay up to date on the release of the sixth novel starring Maggie Hope and company by following Susan Elia MacNeal online: Website/Facebook/Twitter.

Click to explore the books in The Maggie Hope Mysteries and pre-order The Queens Accomplice:

Use an eReader? Start reading now:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

8 Encouraging Quotes to Put on Your Favorite Bookmark

This Mother's Day all the main moms in my life were gifted homemade bookmarks complete with beaded tassels and a quote from the Bible about the value of women (Proverbs 31:10). The intent was to encourage these women to read and learn as well as just let them know how cool I think they are. Thoughtful gifts are kind of my specialty. 

The bookmarks were really easy and inexpensive to make. I designed the image using PicMonkey. Then I printed and laminated them at my local UPS store. A few hole punches, some embroidery floss, and a couple glass beads later and we were in business. Even after making 9 of them I spent less than $25! And there was still one to spare for myself. You can see the one I made for Mother's Day and more of my bookmark designs below.

8 Encouraging Quotes to Put on Your Favorite Bookmark - remind yourself how awesome you are and motivate yourself to read. It's win-win!

Well, Mother's Day passed and I got to thinking about all the possibilities with this bookmark idea. Homemade bookmarks with personalized quotes would be a hit for any special people in your life: mom or dad, old or young. After gathering up some Pinspiration, I came up with these 8 quotes worthy of motivating you and yours to keep reading, learning, and being cool too!
  1. "If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you."
  2. "A gentlemen is one who puts more into the world than he takes out." - George Bernard Shaw
  3. "It's not just a daydream if you decide to make it your life."
  4. "You don't have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  5. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...so watch your step." - Jeffrey R. Holland
  6. "You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way." - Jennifer J. Freeman
  7. "Work hard & be nice to people."
  8. "The things you are passionate about aren't random, they're your calling." - Fabienne Fredrickson
I chose these quotes because they portray a sense of knowing right from wrong and acting on it. They encourage the reader to truly evaluate the goals they've set and consider what it takes to get there. Perfect for motivating don't you think!

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this list which I've turned into bookmarks for you already. Also check out the one I made for Mother's Day. I'm no graphic designer, but it's pretty fun! Save your fave to print later when you're ready to be reminded to keep being awesome. Or make your own! Which of the quotes from today's list would to want to see everyday? Tweet me your favorite or your bookmark creations so I can see: @love_kristyn

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Procrastination & the Breakdown of Creative Block

Waiting until (close to) the last minute is a ridiculously obvious pillar of my creativity. For the most part I'd say the experience has actually been positive, at least when it comes to results. My creativity tends to have super powers worthy of a comic book character when I'm down to the wire. I'm pretty good when put on the spot. For example, I remember staying up all night in high school creating a magazine with a theme of Macbeth. All of these interesting and fun possibilities started flooding in late on the night before the project was due. Perfume ad by Lady Macbeth? Travel piece about the Scottish highlands? Yeah. It. Was. Sick.

Still there are times when working up to a deadline is a terrible, gut twisting mistake. This is the version of Procrastination that adults warned us about when we were young. Procrastination shows its lack of compassion and leaves us tragically, and maybe symbolically, frozen in space and time. Then you're really beat because you can't get even get your mind to think of ways to get out of that anxious bind, let alone to offer ideas for the original task.

Procrastination can be a real pain as it piles up. More often we describe this intense waiting period as a result of some kind of "block" to our abilities. Looking back we assume some unknown obstacle has secretly been working at sabotage until we make an excuse for it. I say that Procrastination and Creative Block are the same thing, meaning that it was there all along. We simply don't have the capacity to recognize and then adapt to it.

Procrastination & the Breakdown of Creative Block - be prepared next time your lose your creative cool

Think about it: What are Creative Block's weapons of war? Time. Resources. Fear. Skill. Our minds wander as we make up excuses for not having new ideas or perspective. Time goes on, the project will eventually take care of itself. We brush it off with crossed fingers hoping our readiness to produce catches us on the way down. Then we're falling and falling and falling until... Deadline. And then we act as if we had no control over the process.

The danger of this experience is not in the habit. In fact, I'd say routine waiting is a good thing for creativity. There is also no danger in the lack of "new" ideas because we can keep track of those even when we aren't looking for them.

Actually the danger is found in letting ourselves be defeated by Creative Block, turning a blind eye to  the possibility of obstruction until it's too late. In the moment we are useless. When the battle is over we start with our creative wells depleted. There is no real measure of our ability to overcome or to be successful because there is always something in the way which keeps us from viewing our full potential. Let me explain what I mean.

Full disclosure: This post was written two weeks after its posting date. 

What?! Oh! the blogging blasphemy! Yeah, whatever. At least I wrote it. And I can assure you this story is worth considering. The conclusion? Authenticity incarnate.

After sending the monthly blog recap email for ETLT, I sat down to schedule out upcoming posts. In the email I had shared some ideas for topics to look out for on the blog. At the time those post topics seemed like a great way to go. However when I looked back to consider the big picture, I hesitated because the post ideas seemed repetitive against previous posts. That meant I needed to come up with some newer ideas. The week rolled by but nothing seemed to stick. Plus the obligation to live up to the posts mentioned in the email made me feel like a liar for choosing something different.

I let the weekend pass. I'm not unrealistic about how many eyes get on this site and I let that justify a choice to not write at all. No one would notice if this day had been left empty or if I didn't stick to a consistent posting schedule or if I didn't have anything "native" to post on social media for a while. A couple more days went by. At first the decision meant nothing to me. Again, no one would notice. But over time I started to feel a bit sick from the hollowness. Not writing wasn't much of an example of self-improvement... One of the purposes of writing this blog is the *doing* part of becoming better. If I wasn't writing then I wasn't helping myself. The conclusion was I had to write something - ANYTHING! But what?

By now a thick wall, so high and so wide that I couldn't get over or around it, had centered itself in my mind.  All of the possible ways to move forward were on the other side. I was stuck and blind. Even with the will to move on, I didn't know which way to go! After wrestling for another week I realized that to overcome the Wall which kept my blog blank I had to actually attack it. I just couldn't leave this blog blank any longer.

Be Diplomatic

As I mentioned before, creating a routine of waiting is a special tool in a maker's bag. Waiting allows us time to think deeply, opens us up for true problem-solving. With free time we are willing to experiment or have the chance to make new connections. The end result isn't just topical, it has substance and meaning thanks to the extra effort in going beyond the surface.

When it comes to diplomacy and strategy, there are two options. In short, will you to let the enemy come to you or are you going to go to it. To approach the enemy means we get to control the situation by scheduling thinking time. You are in charge of how, when, and where to be thoughtful by using set aside time to experiment with topics and projects. Do research and let your brain reach out to the world around you, or review what you have already (see below) and attempt to take it to the next level.

But be wary. When a schedule is too rigid we might be exposing ourselves. In this case, let the enemy come to you. Sit and do nothing. I mean it. Nothing. Or if you must do something choose an irrelevant activity. Eventually the Wall has to come down. Then you can let the ideas touch you when the channels are open.

Bring Out the Big Guns

Okay, so it's not all out war on the front lines, but effective defense against Creative Block may require some ammunition. I like to think of it as brainstorming indefinitely. You'll never want for ideas if you have a method for getting them down and keeping those bursts of creativity when they happen. The job is easy too!

Open your handy notebook or note-taking app of choice and start a list. Every time you think of a new way to do what you do, a fresh perspective on a topic you've been wrestling with, an activity worth trying WRITE IT DOWN. Include details that would help you use the idea in the future, especially the source of inspiration so you can refer back to it or give credit. Keep track of what you would use the idea for. Maybe even include pictures or a step-by-step for what you see in your head. With a living list you'll always have a way out when Procrastination attacks.

During the time it took to finish this post, I kept reminding myself it needed to be written no matter what. Like building muscle, flexing your creativity no matter the effort is essential to keeping in shape. Otherwise you lose it. Sometimes I wonder if that's what happened to me and writing. I can't risk losing it again. Even if I hadn't come up with this confession/lesson I had thought to write a poem or share another round of personal photos. All I had to do was settle into my defense. The same thing can happen to any maker if he or she chooses to fight back when Creative Block or Procrastination arrive. And when that Wall hits, he or she will be equipped to defeat it.
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Kristyn here. I'm really good at Googling, dreaming, and thinking outside the box. Someday I'm going to save all the puppies and perform on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

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