Let’s Talk About YA

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’ve never particularly cared for young adult books. In fact, when I was at an age to be reading that genre? I was doing everything possible to avoid the category altogether. At the time, I can recall thinking to myself that there were far better books out there which I wanted to be devouring. Therefore, I’d impress my school librarian with my “amazingly intellectual demeanor” and coax her into giving me books intended for adults (and, no, I’m not talking E.L. James. More like Henry James).

By the time I’d entered college, I’d felt secure in my opinions regarding the genre because it seemed as though books like ‘The Giver’ were being replaced with series like ‘Hunger Games’. Dystopian and popular girl turned vampire seemed to be all the rage; half heartedly, I’d tried to pick up a few books in the category and then fail miserably to complete them. The writing seemed one dimensional, the characters stale, and my interest kept drifting over to my beloved historical fiction tomes and biographies on the Milford’s.

Now, however, I find myself in a precarious position. I’m a middle school teacher working with the age group of kids that are most likely to pick up a young adult book. Now, my job as a literature instructor, is to guarantee that they leave my classroom at the end of the school year with an appreciation for the written word. While it’s perfectly appropriate and expected to focus on more serious minded texts in the classroom, I understand better than anyone the power of independent reading at home. Yet in the age of clicking, swiping, and ‘x-ing’ out of, how can I generate interest in pleasure reading?

Simple enough, in theory. I need to have a classroom library full of contemporary young adult books encompassing all of the young adult genres. But that’s not enough. As my husband will tell me, if you want to sell a product, you have to truly know it. And kids? They can tell when you’re breezing your way through a suggestion if you haven’t actually read it. It’s part of my job description to be as aware of what’s trending in the young adult world as possible. This requires some serious setting aside of time to read the young adult books that matter.

Spoiler Alert: I’ve never met a reading challenge I haven’t accepted with alacrity. Here’s to a year of growing with my students and reading outside of my typical box.

Cherishing ‘Summer Hours’

Summertime and the reading is……”easy”

There are just certain types of novels that work extremely well while you’re at the beach. When you’re sifting sand through your toes and listening to the gentle lapping of the ocean water, you need a book that doesn’t require too much thinking. This doesn’t necessarily mean a mindless read; I’m discovering that mindless reads are typically synonymous with terrible writing. 

      My final read of June was ‘Summer Hours’ by Amy Mason Doan. I’ll be honest- I brought this book with me on my beach vacation for the cover alone. There had been a fair amount of hype surrounding this book, and I’ve never read anything by this author before, so I figured I’d give it a go. Turns out it was the perfect novel to read while sprawled out on my beach towel, sipping slowly on my Delirium Red. 

     Don’t be fooled by the semi lethargic pacing of this novel. Every component of the plot is intentional and the slow reveal of certain summer secrets will keep you flipping pages long after your sun screen has worn off. Drawn initially to the character detailed on the opening flap, I was determined to keep my streak of reading about writers going.

      There are two Beccs in this story and, by the end of the novel, you’ll have fallen in love with them both. One is the wide eyed and aspiring twenty year old Becc- the young woman attending Berkley with her journalism major and her heart in her eyes. The other is the rougher around the edges thirty year old Becc- a woman who has learned of just how crippling heartbreak and poor decision making can be. 

     Amy Mason Doan was my companion on the beach yesterday and I was sad to turn the final pages of ‘The Summer Hours’….perhaps partially because my own summer is coming to an end. I might be running out of beach days, but I do still have many summer hours left to mingle with my working hours and I intend to use them wisely.  

No Longer Waiting

Modern Mr. Darcy and Tom Hanks no longer seems unobtainable

Reader, is there anything more splendid than being with the one you love? Somebody who allows you to be yourself in all of the ways that matter and who only ever increases your inner shine. I never thought I would ever actually be able to describe my life partner in these terms- until a little over a year ago, I thought I would have to simply savor all the fictional male characters who managed to fall under the umbrella of Mr. Delovely. 

     Summer brings a wave of beach type reads for me, which means I tend to have colorful stacks and delightful ebook collections of the rom-com meets chick lit meets women’s fiction variety. With each page I turn (or tap, as the case may be), I am wrapped up in female characters desperately seeking the modern Mr. Darcy. Each heroine believes the right fit is out there somewhere, despite the fact that reality has attempted to prove time and time again that this is highly unlikely. The reader valiantly watches the character try to balance the inner goddess who wants to be successful and independent with the inner Queen who needs a King to make her feel love and balanced. 

     Waiting For Tom Hanks was an adorable read, featuring a female character with some big expectations of true love. Having always been enamored with the romantic comedy classics starring the likes of Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and- yep- Tom Hanks, Annie is waiting for that larger than life romantic comedy moment where she’ll stare dreamily into her Tom Hanks’ eyes and know that she’s found the perfect one. The only trouble with that is that she is so wrapped up in creating the perfect love scene, that she fails to live in the moment. Equally problematic, Annie’s unique outlook on how life should pan out is perhaps keeping her from dreaming outside of the box and really going for her writing passions. When Drew Danforth, the celebrity every woman in the country loves to swoon over, takes part in a film produced in the Ohio town Annie resides in, she has some grand visions of turning someone on that movie set into her very own Tom Hanks. A quick beach read, Waiting For Tom Hanks is for the reader who enjoys small town settings, coffee, cozy love stories, and the occasional humorous remark. 

     According to Annie, I’ve definitely found my Tom Hanks. Although, being a die hard Jane Austen fan, I’d prefer to say that I’ve found my Mr.Darcy. This week and into next, we are spending some much needed together time at the beach. It’s hard to believe that I’ve managed to find somebody who believes in my writing, admires my reading habits, and knows the best ways to help me unwind. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband and, I’ve discovered, these good vibe beach reads are made all the sweeter with the knowledge that my search for Mr.Delovely is officially over. If you need me, I’ll be at the beach with my modern Mr. D. 

An Anti-Foodie’s Reflection & A New Approach To “Eating Right”

A low FODMAP way of life is going to ensure I live my best life.

Summer is scooping heaps of Ingles tuna fish directly from the container with carrots, savoring each mouthful. It’s drinking chilled Sauvignon Blanc with my mom on the back porch, looking out at the lake. Ice cream sundaes decked out with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and bananas. As June gives way to July, it’s all about juicy watermelon at the kitchen table and my mom’s homemade gazpacho served to two newlyweds still finding their footing in this world. 

     Fall means apple cider served cold, hot, spiced, spiked. It’s recollecting Irish pub visits with my father when I’d fly down from college for short but food filled fall breaks. The changing of the leaves brings delectable autumn squash, delightful quiches, and delicious powdered apple cider donuts. As Thanksgiving approaches, fall is all about the giving way to winter and the launch of my favorite time of year: the holiday season. 

     Winter is home cooked meals in my parents kitchen, starting with my mom’s notorious popover pancakes and my dad’s slightly over the top alcoholic Christmas eggnog. Hot soups served on cherished snow days in my parents living room growing up have given way to peppermint schnapps infused hot cocoa on the couch with my husband on a snowy Sunday afternoon. 

     Spring holds the promise of my birthday and key lime pie, but begins with tofu served in baked pineapples and the last of anything butternut until summer collapses back into fall. With spring, comes my father’s birthday and Mother’s Day with each of those days entailing unique menus and mouth watering cakes (all thanks to my mother, who I swear was Mama Lydia meets Barefoot Contessa in a former life). 

     Food is meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed. It’s taken me a very long time to finally find a nutrition plan that works best for me. Somewhere along the way, perhaps at some point between eating Thai food in London with my father at the Blue Elephant and gorging myself on Indian food with a former friend in Fairfax, Virginia, I lost my way with eating. Food became my number one enemy and I fought physically, emotionally, and mentally with every meal I consumed. A combination of poor self body image issues and crippling cramps that led to weeks on end of disgusting bloating, I forgot about the magic of food. While food should not define us or be what our daily routine revolves around, it should be something that adds to the overall experience of this one life we all have. I don’t want to be trapped in a negative mindset any longer when it comes to my interactions with eating. Being able to put a name to what my body has been trying to tell me since my high school days has been an empowering experience….albeit, it’s only been a little more than a week since I began my low FODMAP journey. 

     Now, though, I can begin to adjust the foods going into my body accordingly and recognize that I DO have a difficult time processing certain foods. It WASN’T all in my head, and, perhaps most importantly, I need to also change my outlook on my relationship with food if I ever want the situation to fully improve. Food adds to the richness of life and, whether I like it or not, food is embedded into all of my most memorable memories: devouring fried eggs and sautéed spinach on an outdoor patio with my father in Cape Town, South Africa, giggling over Pinot Grigio and fajitas at a Mexican restaurant with my mom in Queenstown, New Zealand, shoveling the sweetest cake I’ll ever taste into my husband’s mouth on our wedding day in Pavia, Italy. All memories I want to hold onto for the remainder of my life. All memories I want to build upon. Like the genuine Cajun food we are sure to experience when we vacation in New Orleans for Thanksgiving break or having a slice of TRUE PIZZA New Years Eve on the streets of Brooklyn before returning to the base of the Brooklyn bridge with my husband to honor where he proposed to me. 

     Life is all about those lemons. Or, in my case…those FODMAPs. 

My Ex- Best Friend’s Wedding by Wendy Wax Delights This Writing Reader

I’ve been silent on here for awhile, but in my defense a lot has been going on in my personal life and there just hasn’t been a spare moment. Things should begin to even out now and I vow to post more regularly…..three posts a week seems quite achievable. 

     One of the reasons why I put my old blog on hiatus is because, in addition to being a voracious reader, I am also an aspiring author. Working on my writing projects takes time and something else always has to give. About two months ago, I completed a novel of my very own that I’m now in the midst of trying to push out into the world. Meanwhile, I’ve already started a second novel because a writer always has to have something else up her sleeve. 

     Lately, and I don’t know if this is the universe attempting to tell me something, I’ve been reading a lot of novels that center around writers. The last six novels in a row, and the one I’m currently reading, feature main characters who write for a living….or, at least, try to. Currently, I’m three quarters of the way through the latest Wendy Wax novel. ‘My Ex- Best Friend’s Wedding’ reminds me of why I fell in love with Wax to begin with- her clear cut wit, evident eloquence, and vivid narrations of multiple characters. Wax also has a penchant for writing about writers in a refreshing way that has me laughing out loud in bed and making connections to my own writing journey. It also has me reflecting a lot on the nature of friendships. 

     Lauren and Bree used to be two peas in a pod, growing up in the Outer Banks together with similar goals and identical dreams. But only one of them goes on to become a celebrated and published author, while the other remains in the town where they grew up and runs a bookstore while trying to keep her marriage from falling to pieces. Both former friends hold grudges agains the other for decisions made that they view as slights. Lauren cannot forgive Bree for seemingly giving up on their childhood dream without so much as a ‘by your leave’, while Bree believes that Lauren stole material from her and kicked their friendship to the curve the moment she became a bestselling author. They haven’t seen one another since Lauren very grudgingly agreed to keep a promise made as children to serve as Bree’s maid of honor. 

     Now, Lauren’s own imminent nuptials bring her back to the Outer Banks and back to Bree where their former friendship will perhaps find a way to seep back into their lives on the waves of some very unexpected and life altering announcements. Wax takes her readers on a journey through the loving chaos of family dynamics, the travails of writers (Bree has been working on a novel of her own for about fifteen years now while Lauren hasn’t the slightest idea how to churn out another bestseller), and the magic of enduring bonds. 

      Check out my instagram account today for a different type of review on this book, emphasizing the feelings that were drawn out of me in relation to friendships as I was reading ‘My Ex Best Friend’s Wedding

An Uneventful Read

This has been a flourishing mental week for me but, conversely, a rather frustrating reading week. I am well aware that the mindset you’re in as a reader does greatly impact your takeaway on the books you’re reading for pleasure. So, when I had my first slip up with a novel, I was ready to chalk it up to the fact that I was simply mentally drained. Attending a workshop on how to be the best teacher I can be does take a significant amount of brain power. But when the second and third book I pleasure read fell short also? Well, that’s when I slipped into the mode of the frustrated reader. 

    In May, I read one delectable book after another and I began my June reading on the same playing field in terms of stellar reads. I suppose, however, it’s not realistic for such a streak to persist. Even so, I wasn’t expecting to be so sorely disappointed in books that were intended to give me mental breathers from the educational workshop I was attending during the day. 

     Having made the move to the South, Dorothea Benton Frank’s novels took on a whole other meaning for me. I truly began to appreciate the northern meets southern dimension that existed in all of her novels. A combination of true wit, immense heart, and characters that are overflowing with vibrancy are what I’ve come to expect. The Queen Bee didn’t contain any of that, and I’m still kind of reeling from my disappointing reading experience. When characters fail to pop off the page, the plot feels chaotic, and the wit slippery? It’s not a recipe for a good reading experience! Some of my fellow bookworms indicated that they felt The Queen Bee had remnants of her earliest works, but I failed to see that….perhaps I need to take a refresher course on Frank’s earlier volumes? 

    As I head into the weekend and a potentially enjoyable week of reading ahead, I’m hoping that the new Beatriz Williams book and the Mia Hayes novel I received will prove to be more enthralling to this frustrated reader.

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly Stuns, Dazzles, And Gives You Pause

At what age do we begin to seriously consider our mortality? Certainly, when I was younger, the thought of death and dying never once crossed my mind. The average human life span coupled with the everyday tragedies people are afflicted with were among the topics that my seven year old self had no true concept of. My parents kept me a child for as long as possible, and for that I am forever grateful. 

     I’m not implying that now, at the ‘ripe’ old age of almost twenty-eight, I think about death on a regular basis. But, inevitably, mortality and the reality that a life can be cut short all too inexplicably, is more prevalently on my radar. This honestly shouldn’t surprise me considering I chose to specialize in genocide when I was a college student. One could argue that I made a study of death for four long years, trying to enter into the minds of sick individuals such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. As we grow into adulthood, some of us become more aware than others of the atrocities human beings are capable of committing against one another. What precisely is it that makes one of us decide that its alright to justify killing a group of people because of their beliefs, sexual orientation, or politics? Race, too, becomes a justifiable cause for cutting a life short. 

     ‘Lost Roses’ by Martha Hall Kelly was one of those novels that gripped me, sucking me in to the horrors of humanity while simultaneously reminding me why there are ample reasons to continue to hope. She depicts the Russian aristocracy being annihilated by the disgruntled peasants who’d determined they’d suffered enough. Yet, the response of the peasants against the bourgeois was as inhumane and inconsiderate as the actions of the tsar against his people. Reading about the ways in which the aristocracy were imprisoned, tortured, and manipulated left a sick feeling in my stomach- and when you read the scenes about charred bodies impaled on lampposts? It’s hard not to think about death. Yet perhaps more unbearable to read than the scenes of brutality, were the moments within the novel when major characters proved themselves incapable of exhibiting mercy. Visualizing Varinka, a young peasant girl, willfully removing a son from the arms of his aristocratic mother simply because she was aristocracy? I dare any reader to not have strong emotional reactions to the pleas of Sofya for Varinka to return her son to where he so rightfully belonged. 

     This sweeping saga follows the travails Sofya endures to reclaim her stolen child, all the while exposing a Russia that has rotted from the inside out. Meanwhile, the sense of hopelessness clinging to Sofya’s American friend, Eliza, prevails throughout the tale. Eliza, a suffragette and a premature widow, understandably panics when letters from Sofya stop arriving from across the ocean. Her determination to help Sofya blossoms into a movement of resilience. Helping countless numbers of displaced Russians, specifically women, Eliza attempts to trace her missing friend through the tragic women she meets. The steely determination Eliza has when it comes to locating Sofya is both admirable and heartwarming. In the face of evil, Kelly reiterates, there is always someone who is willing to stand up, shake their fist at death, and declare that good shall prevail. 

     ‘Lost Roses’ is subtle in its strength and will have you hooked by the time you’ve arrived at Part Two. This novel challenges the reader to reflect on what it means to be human and how far you, as an individual, would go to survive in a situation dominated by hopelessness. How far would you go to help someone desperately in need? How long would it take for your soul to break beneath the cruel hands of torture? When you finish reading the final paragraph, undoubtedly, mortality will come to mind….followed swiftly by a resolve to enjoy every moment you receive in this life because there are plenty others who will never get the same opportunities as you. Every second is a gift. And don’t you forget it. 

Hilderbrand and Macomber Spell Summer

Summer reads, summer breeze, summer love.

     Summer, to me, means endless hours out on the porch with a good book in my hand. Moscow mules and page turners, my parents reading nearby. I try and get as much family time in during the summer because, as a teacher, my profession allows me some down time over the summer season. Summer means key lime pie to ring in the fact that I’ve made it another year on this planet and, thankfully, these past few birthdays (as well as my upcoming one) I have plenty of reasons to celebrate. 

     Nothing spells summer quite like a good read from Elin Hilderbrand and Debbie Macomber. Both of these authors have a simple way of capturing the attention of this reader with their endearing characters and easy going story lines laced with a tinge of genre. Somehow, I always manage to feel connected to the topics discussed within the pages of their novels and I eagerly anticipate a new release from these authors around this time of year. 

     ‘Summer of 69’ by Elin Hilderbrand was, in my opinion, unlike any other book I’ve read by this author. Reflecting on both her success as a writer and the fact that the passage of time has brought her into her fifties, Hilderbrand decided to write a novel that was a tribute, in a sense, to her childhood. This book takes you back to 1969, when the Vietnam War was raging, Americans were protesting the senselessness of it all, and women were confined to the kitchens and living rooms. While Hilderbrand remained true to her typical setting of the Nantucket Island, little else in this novel reminded me of previous works. Through the voices of three daughters and their mother, the reader comes to appreciate what life was like for a woman in 1969. Stepping into new territory with this fantastic historical novel, Hilderbrand continues with the tradition of shadowing a family full of complex characters. Blair, the oldest daughter struggles to maintain her dignity as she navigates the waters of marriage and rapidly learns that the plans she had for her own career are perhaps not going to pan out the way she’d intended. Kirby, the rebel child within the family, is haunted by a mistake made in her recent past. Eager to escape the humiliation of her own inner demons, takes a job on Martha’s Vineyard and finds herself embroiled in both politics and race while there. Thirteen year old Jessie is coming into womanhood, quite literally, while feeling out of place in her own skin and incapable of discussing with anyone what’s running through her mind. The mother figure in this novel, normally the character in Hilderbrand’s novels who holds all the seams together, is in a depressed fog as she worries about her son, Tiger, who is fighting in the Vietnam War. Mixed in with this fear is a tense relationship with her own mother and the sense that her past is going to come back to bite her in the most vulnerable of places. 

      Beautifully written, ‘Summer of 69’ was a book I could not set down and one I read late into the night. ‘Window On The Bay’ by Debbie Macomber is a slightly more simplistic read but, at its core, there’s a story worth reading. Now that I’m in my late twenties, I can look back and reflect on my college days. My relationship with my mother has always been a relatively strong one and I know that my going off to college was difficult for her. Therefore, the story line of Jenna in ‘Window On The Bay’ was one that I instantly could tie myself to. Jenna, a single mother, has been putting her dreams on the back burner quite willingly throughout the duration of her children’s childhoods. But now that her youngest daughter, Allie, is off to college, Jenna finds herself determined to tick of some things on her bucket list. Falling in love with a doctor she works with? Well, that was never quite in the plans. But her relationship with the surgeon becomes complicated by both of their pasts, as well as, both of their present day circumstances. Her daughter Allie, it seems, is not adjusting to college life the way that Jenna had hoped she would and this also places a strain on Jenna’s relationship with Rowan. Meanwhile, Jenna’s best friend Maureen- also a single parent- has decided that remaining single for the rest of her life is what fate intended. As a librarian, she can have all the relationships that she wants with the men in her books. But when Logan, a real life man, walks into her life every Monday to ask for a new book recommendation, Maureen finds herself starting to change her own mind about staying single. In true Macomber fashion, the reader is reminded about what is most important when it comes to matters of the heart. 

*Thanks to Book of The Month, I was able to read Summer of 69 early. Summer of 69 releases June 18th. And a special thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine books for my advanced reader copy of ‘Window On The Bay’ which releases July 16th

The Dutch House

Storytelling at its finest- a true masterpiece you will not be able to walk away from.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for this complimentary copy of ‘The Dutch House’ in exchange for my honest review. 

Pub Date: September 24, 2019 

      Anne Patchett delivers another powerful novel, full of rich characters and strong underlying messages about what it means to navigate through life in this chaotic world we are living in. Touching on how impactful buildings and things can be to our everyday existence, Danny and Maeve have developed an unbreakable (and somewhat unhealthy) relationship with their childhood home. ‘The Dutch House’ has become a landmark in both of their minds, serving to represent both their happiest and most tragic memories. A symbol of all that they have lost, this house that has been stripped from their inheritance ends up being one of the driving forces keeping them glued together. 

     At its core, ‘The Dutch House’ is also a beautiful tribute to siblings who manage to stand together through the thick and the thin. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, the age gap between Maeve and Danny, they have come to rely on one another for both emotional support and moral boosting. Smart, capable Maeve is continuously underestimated in a world still very much inclined to favor the man. Meanwhile, Danny’s emotional growth became a bit stunted at the loss of their father when he was still at a malleable age. The future path that had been carved out for him (inheriting the family business in addition to the Dutch house) is suddenly removed from beneath his feet by the woman their father married after their mother disappeared. Both siblings must face moving through life in the aftermath of the unexpected cards fate has dealt them. 

      Beautifully written, Patchett has proven once again that she is a masterful storyteller. Anyone who enjoyed ‘Commonwealth’ will eat this book up. Characters that tug at your heart, a plot that makes you ponder what truly matters in life, and the power each chapter has of resurrecting nostalgia within the reader of what they once loved. ‘The Dutch House’ is a must read- pre-order this now and curl up in the fall with a strong cup of tea or coffee becasue you’ll be in for a long, delightful read. 

The Secret of Clouds

     ‘The Secret of Clouds’ by Alyson Richman is the kind of novel that haunts you but in a beautiful kind of way. Richman essentially dares you with her exquisite words to not be grateful for what you have, as you dive into the world of a sick little boy whose heart condition prevents him from ever fully leading a normal life. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house because one little sniffle could result in a trip to the hospital. As the reader is drawn deeper into the world of this charming little boy, they quickly take note of the fact that Yuri does his best to be happy with the cards fate has dealt him, painfully aware of how heartbroken both of his parents are over his condition. 

     Katya, his mother, would do anything to reverse the hands of time to change her son’s destiny. Immigrants from Ukraine, she had come with her husband to America precisely to ensure that her future children would have the best of opportunities. The Kiev that they walked away from had been grim, chemical filled, and antisemetic. She couldn’t have predicted that the week of inhaling chemical laced air as a result of a factory accident would lead to her giving birth to a son with a grave heart condition. All she wants is for Yuri to be able to laugh outside with friends, play baseball, and attend school…..but this is constantly at war with her motherly instinct of preservation. 

    Enter Maggie Topper, the main narrator of this story, who is a sixth grade English teacher at the public school in the district where Yuri lives. She’s asked to serve as Yuri’s private language arts tutor and the bond these two form ends up being undeniably unbreakable. As a teacher myself, I kept thinking as I turned each page of the book that this was why I taught. To be able to positively influence the mindset of a young student is to feel success. Additionally, it’s the lessons we as teachers learn from our students that lead to us making incredible discoveries about ourselves. Richman weaves a tale of heartache and self discovery as she navigates between the outlook of adults vs the outlook of children. You come to remember, as an adult reader, that even a life laced with tragedy is easier to face when you possess the type of goodwill and innocence that only exists in the mind of a child. Richman gently chides us adults for losing that sentiment somewhere along the way and, through Yuri, urges us to consider finding a way to somehow resurrect that childhood naïveté. The world, as it turns out, could end up being a far more pleasant and tenable place