Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: Grant County Series AND Will Trent Series

Yep, you read that title correctly. I am reviewing two series, each made up of six books. That is twelve books total and the best part? I read the entire twelve books over the course of three weeks. My husband thinks I have a sickness, but regardless, I hope that (combined with the craziness of the first quarter of the school year) explains me being MIA since late-August. Now on to the book review....

The weekend prior to Teacher Work Week, I read Cop Town by Karin Slaughter on suggestion from my bestie. It was fantastic and an incredibly quick read, so I decided to delve into Slaughter's first series, the Grant County series, which follows Dr. Sara Linton, the pediatrician and county coroner of Grant County and Jeffrey Tolliver, Grant County's Chief of Police and Sara'a ex-husband. All of the novels in the series (Blindsighted, Kisscut, A Faint Cold Fear, Indelible, Faithless, and Beyond Reach) read like episodes of Law and Order: SVU. Simply put, they include so much sexually-motivated killings. I love SVU, or, as my husband calls it, Rape Case, so the content of the novels really did not bother me, but I understand how someone with a queasy stomach may not enjoy them so much. The storylines are fascinating and connect well, so it was super easy to breeze through that series. There were characters in the series, though, who I began to thoroughly dislike as the series went on (stupid Lena) and the ending of the series was heartbreaking.

After wrapping my mind around the final scene of the final book, I went to the library and checked out the Will Trent series (Triptych, Fractured, Undone, Broken, Fallen, and Criminal), which takes place in Atlanta and follows Will Trent, a GBI special agent, his partner Faith Mitchell, and his sometimes wife Angie Polaski. While the two series are connected, it is not until the third book that any of the characters from the Grant County series are introduced. I really enjoyed reading the Will Trent series because I felt Will was such an interesting character and actually reminded me of some of my students. I did, however, want to punch Angie in the face on the regular because of her horrible treatment of Will.

In all, I think I liked the Will Trent series better because the storylines were so varied (rape, kidnap, drugs, etc.) and were not all SVU episodes like in the Grant County series. Plus, I liked the ending of the Will Trent series MUCH better than the Grant County series (stupid Lena). Regardless, both series completely sucked me in and I now want to read all of Slaughter's books. Definitely a 9/10 for both series!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review: Pretty Baby

Mary Kubica writes some seriously twisted, psychologically creepy books. Her first book, The Good Girl, was good, but I think Pretty Baby was even better...and even more messed up.

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Like many novels that fall into the psychological thriller realm, Pretty Baby is told in the alternating voices of Willow, Chris, and Heidi. Willow is a young, homeless girl who is alone in Chicago with a baby. She is filthy, secretive, and desperate, not knowing where to go or what to do until she is noticed by Heidi while standing on the train platform in the rain.

Heidi is a mother, wife, and has a soft spot for those less fortunate, as is shown in her inner monologue when thinking about Willow and those individuals she has helped while working at a non-profit organization. When she sees Willow at the train station holding four month old Ruby, her natural disposition is to help. Heidi, however, has a sad past, one that will come into question when she invites Willow and Ruby into her house, a decision her husband, Chris, and twelve year old daughter, Zoe, are not thrilled with.

Chris is a loving husband and father who recognizes that his past with Heidi is not without sadness and hurt. However, Chris thought those wounds had long ago healed. Having Willow in his home causes him to question not only what his wife was thinking, but also how healed those traumas in his wife's past truly are.

Pretty Baby is a page turner, filled with twists that I was truly not expecting. Most of the chapters end on a cliffhanger and unforeseen circumstances had me reading well into the night (by flashlight as to not disrupt my peacefully sleeping hubby). After finishing the book in less than 24 hours, I give it a 9 out of 10 and highly recommend Pretty Baby to everyone, especially those who enjoyed The Good Girl. Well done, Mary Kubica, on another literary success. :)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: The Other Daughter

So I am going to be honest took me FOREVER to get through this novel. The premise is super intriguing, but for some reason, I just had a hard time getting into it.

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The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig centers around Rachel Woodley, a governess living and working in France when she receives a telegram alerting her to her mother's failing health in England. Upon her return to England, she discovers she is too late: her mother has succumbed to influenza. While going through her mother's things, Rachel finds a picture of the father who had presumably died twenty-three years prior. The only issue is that the picture came from a recent issue of a gossip magazine and he is posing with a woman who is listed as his daughter. Rachel realizes that everything she had been told about her father had been a lie; not only is he alive, but he is an Earl and has another family.

Rachel travels to London to learn more about her father and in the process, she meets Simon, a gossip columnist who helps her to come with a plan to gain access into the high ranks of society so that she can confront her father. What follows is a really unbelievable plan in which Rachel assumes the name Vera Morton, a distant cousin of Simon's, and she is set up in a lavish London apartment complete with a new wardrobe to help her assume her new identity. 

I found the concept of being able to change a person's personality and diction in a few days to be extremely hard to believe. Even Professor Higgins took more than a few days to get Eliza Doolittle ready for society in My Fair Lady. Regardless, the story continues with numerous mysteries being uncovered, flawed characters unveiled, and emotions running wild.

I think The Other Daughter has potential, but as a historical novel, it does not quite fit the mold. Not enough is discussed about what is happening in England during the late 1920s when the novel takes place. The only detail given is to the lavish furnishings and gardens of the entitles characters in the novel, as well as the clothing and partying life. Overall, I give Willig's novel a 7.5 out of 10, as the details of the minor characters and time period were not developed thoroughly enough for my liking.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: Yellow Crocus

The neighborhood we live in has a book group and while I have never actually been to a meeting, I do read the Facebook posts to see what book has been chosen each month and depending on how I feel about the book summary, I occasionally will read the selected book. Needless to say, when I read the summary for this past month's book, I was delighted.

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I have been on a historical fiction kick recently and have found myself reading more and more novels that deal with slavery and the Civil War. Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim follows the relationship of Lisbeth, the privileged oldest child of plantation owners, and Mattie, one of the family's slaves who becomes Lisbeth's wet nurse. As Lisbeth grows older, she finds that Mattie is more like family than either of her parents--the overwhelmed mother and cold, distant father--and her frequent visits to the slave quarters to see Mattie's own family brings them even closer together.

Yellow Crocus was a novel that I honestly could not put down. There is just so much that happens in the novel and so much that makes you think about the ways of the South during the 1800s. I was drawn into the setting and absolutely fell in love with the gentle, yet strong and brave character of Mattie. I literally finished this novel in one day; it just drew me in and kept me enthralled from start to finish. I could not put it down. The story just flowed seamlessly and you were left with a sense of satisfaction. 

I was amazed that the novel was written by a first-time author. Ibrahim's writing skills are truly fantastic. Every detail in the novel, from what Lisbeth wore for her dances to how Mattie speaks, just seems to real. I felt like I was there, watching the story unfold in person. The details, writing, and beautiful storytelling make it difficult to give Yellow Crocus anything other than a 10 out of 10. I just hope that Ibrahim decides to publish another novel (and soon!) because her writing is lovely. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I Re-read Harry Potter

As I sat in the family room reading the last 130 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Monday night, my husband sat on the couch across from me laughing. Why? He was laughing at the fact that I was legitimately crying over the events in the novel, a novel that I have read at least nine times. His thought process was simple: You know what is going to happen, so why do you continue to cry about it? For that, I have no response, because his logic does make sense, but regardless of how many times I have read the novels in the Harry Potter series, I get so caught up in the wizarding world that I find myself experiencing all those emotions as if I were reading them for the first time.

My students ask the same question every year when they realize that not only do I have Dumbledore's Army posters in my classroom, wear Hogwarts t-shirts with my pencil skirts, and use Ron Weasley's wand as a pointer, but I also re-read the entire series every summer (and have done so since middle school). They think I am crazy, but what I do not think they quite realize is that I essentially grew up with Harry Potter and even now as a 27 year old woman, it is a link to my childhood. 

The Harry Potter bookshelf in the office/library

My sixth grade teacher bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for everyone in our class as Christmas gifts. Right after Christmas, I moved to Richmond and was so utterly upset over moving that I lost myself in books, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone being the first that I read. Needless to say, after reading the first, I was hooked and begged my mom to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for me since those were the only books of the series that had already been released.

Fun Fact: The copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that Mrs. Wilson gave me for Christmas in 1999 still sits on the bookcase in my classroom (and will do so until I quit teaching) and has been the most checked out book in my "library" for the past four years.

I still remember going to Barnes and Noble with my neighbor Ben to get the sixth book at midnight and rushing home to begin reading it. When my mom woke up the next morning to go to work, I was still in bed reading and when she got home from work, I was still there, except this time there were tissues all over my bed (RIP Dumbledore). Even now, after having read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least ten times, I still cry during Dumbledore's funeral. 

I am sure that in five to ten years when I have children of my own, I will tear up in the same parts as I always have when I read the series aloud to them. A part of me is so emotionally invested in the series that the emotions are unavoidable. Plus, the storyline is AWESOME and who in their right mind would not want to be a witch/wizard?! There is an Alan Rickman quote that I think sums up my love of Harry Potter perfectly:

All the feels!!!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: Those Girls

For the past year, there have been so many books that have been called "the next Gone Girl;" however, very rarely do they live up to that title. Chevy Stevens, though, is the closest author to Gillian Flynn in her writing that I have been able to find. Similar to Flynn's novels, when reading Stevens' novels, you get so pulled into the storyline that you begin to feel as if you are a part of the book, and Those Girls is no exception. 

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Those Girls is a crime-based psychological thriller which is full of suspense. The three protagonists, sisters Jess, Courtney, and Dani, are at the mercy of their drunken and abusive father following the death of their mother. The girls are left to fend for themselves for days on end while their father goes off on drinking benders. Their pitiful situation worsens when their father returns home and they are forced to live in perpetual fear as they endure his drunken, violet, and abusive actions.

Unable to endure another night of agony, the sisters flee from their home and are on the run when their truck breaks down in a small town. Two seemingly nice guys, Brian and Gaven, offer to help the girls repair their truck, but then find themselves abducted and abused like before. 

When the girls first meet Brian and Gaven, I found myself wanting to scream out loud and tell them not to trust strangers and do some of the things they were going. I legitimately had almost forgotten that it was a book and not real life, and the girls would not hear me yelling. That is how real Stevens' writing is.

While I very much enjoyed the novel, especially since it has such an enthralling and realistic storyline, I felt that the climax of the story was not very developed. The entire novel is extremely detailed, but the climax felt rushed and not as fleshed out as the rest of the novel. Regardless, I give Those Girls an 8 out of 10 and cannot wait until Stevens' next novel is published.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: Tiny Little Thing

I am a big fan of the Kennedy family. There is just something about them that I find so incredibly fascinating. The scandals, the political intrigue, Jackie's effortless wonder they were essentially American royalty. Beatriz Williams' latest novel Tiny Little Thing has a touch of Kennedy to it, so it was no wonder is I binge-read it over the Fourth of July weekend.

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Tiny Little Thing is a historical novel set in 1960s New England's elite world of political families. It follows the main character, Christina "Tiny" Hardcastle, as she navigates her pristine world through a maze of blackmail, secrets, and betrayal. 

The narration alternates between Tiny and her husband's cousin Caspian, a Vietnam war hero who is the only man privy to Tiny's suppressed life...the life before she became Mrs. Hardcastle. Tiny is beautiful, elegant, and the perfect wife for a man who plans to run for president. However, regardless of how she appears on the outside, Tiny is unhappy in her life with the Hardcastles, especially in what is expected of her. After suffering from a miscarriage and feeling entirely alone at the Hardcastle family compound, Tiny attempts to maintain her high society Hardcastle facade, struggling internally as someone is attempting to blackmail her with incriminating photographs from her past and she suspects her husband of infidelity.

I enjoyed this character-driven novel, especially Tiny, who develops so much inner strength and growth over the course of the novel. Williams created a group of interesting characters in addition to Tiny, including her younger sister Pepper, who offered perfectly-timed humor and off-color jokes to the stuck up Hardcastle family. I also loved how Williams perfectly set up Pepper's storyline for her next novel, Along the Infinite Sea, which will round out the novels on the Schyler sisters. (See my review on the first Schuyler sister, Vivian, here.)

Tiny Little Things is an excellent novel that will open your eyes to the political world of the rich and powerful. I love Williams' writing and with each novel I read, I find myself chomping at the bit for her next. Overall, I give Tiny Little Thing a 9 out of 10. Now I just need it to be November 3rd so I can find out what happens to Pepper and just who the mysterious Mercedes belonged to....

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

If Go Set a Watchman had been published before To Kill a Mockingbird as Harper Lee originally intended, then the novel would have been insignificant...meaningless even. Tom Robinson's trial would have just been a vague incident in Jean Louise's memory instead of the culturally iconic scene that it became. Atticus would be his daughter's fallen hero, but not ours. If Go Set a Watchman had been first, we would only know Atticus as a racist and we would not care; he would not have been an ethical role model, moral center of an entire novel, and a hero. While there would be references to Atticus' past in an effort to explain why Jean Louise's world is so shaken when she discovers her father's beliefs, we as the reader would not share them. The fact is, though, Go Set a Watchman was not published first, so Jean Louise's feelings of hurt and betrayal are our own.

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Go Set a Watchman is about fallen heroes and disillusionment. Jean Louise tries to reconcile how Atticus Finch, the archetype of morality and good, could be a racist, and that is what many readers of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird are trying to reconcile as well. Even with all the hype surrounding the novel, I tried to reserve judgement, especially when it came to Atticus, thinking that there was no way a character could change that drastically in twenty years, and went into reading the novel somewhat in denial. When Jean Louise, who will forever be "Scout" in my mind, finds out Atticus is attending segregationist citizens council meetings, she thinks, "[He was] pulling something, [he was] there merely to keep an eye on things," a thought I, like probably many other readers, hopefully had as well.

The most painful thing about Go Set a Watchman is that this Atticus is still recognizably, unquestionably Atticus Finch. He is still a loving father, a good neighbor, endlessly reasonable, thoughtful, and giving. Regardless, his portrayal in Go Set a Watchman is still disheartening. I tried to explain it to my husband when he noticed I was becoming visibly upset after the first 100 or so pages... Reading this novel would be like if JK Rowling wrote an eighth Harry Potter novel set X amount of years in the future where Harry, an Auror, willingly casts the Cruciatus Curse against magical wrong-doers or, God forbid, Muggles, on a semi-regular basis. Fans of the series would not want to read that, regardless of whether Rowling was able to explain how Harry became that way as he grew older while making it consistent with his character from the first seven novels. It would be heartbreaking.

On a bright side, Jean Louise Finch serves as a moral compass in Go Set a Watchman. Atticus taught her well as she challenges beliefs that she knows are wrong. While not perfect, she has the potential to be better than her father and her hometown. She is also recognizably Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, the outspoken, precocious tomboy, but she is now twenty-six and still out of place in Maycomb. After living the past few years in New York City, she is unable to relate to the women in Maycomb, their interests, and their views on race.

I wanted to hate Go Set a Watchman, and I wanted to be angry at it for ruining the character that I have held in such high regard since reading To Kill a Mockingbird in Mrs. Tucker's ninth grade English class. The controversy surrounding its release would be enough: the story behind its publication is sketchy, almost certainly achieved through unethical means. Unfortunately, the book is good and its message, however painfully it hits, is important. Heroes can fall and, more importantly, that is normal. To Kill a Mockingbird is told from Scout's perspective. At six years old, Scout, like the majority of readers, have a bit of hero-worship when it comes to Atticus. Twenty years later, Jean Louise is seeing her father in a new light and stops the childlike hero worship that we practice as children when we become adults. It hurts, but it is part of life.

Overall, I give Go Set a Watchman a 7 out of 10. While it somewhat ruins Atticus for me, and I am sure Gregory Peck would agree with that, it is still a courageous novel for a young woman to write in the middle of the 1950s. Tackling the issue of white privilege without pulling any punches might not have been received very favorably had the novel been published closer to the time it was written. Perhaps it is perfect timing for the novel to be published, as our culture wrestles with the same issues Atticus did in the 1950s, settling our own watchmen to be on the lookout for our worst fears.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: Luckiest Girl Alive

Stopping a book a quarter of the way through to google what the premise is is not a good start to any novel; however, that is exactly what happened while I was reading Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. I could not quite figure out why I purchased the novel nor what it was exactly about. Not a good thing.

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Throughout the first half of the novel, I kept thinking to myself, why am I reading this? Ani, the main character of the novel, is a self-indulged, miserable woman who is engaged to a perfect, wealthy man whom she does not love, and when she looks back on her past, there is nothing good there either. Ani, formerly TifAni, is all about appearances and details. She spends the majority of her time working to ensure that no one sees what a phony she is who actually had to fight her way to fit in to the role of New York Woman's Magazine writer and overcome some terrible things from her teenaged years.

While I did not hate the novel, I did not truly like it either. I disliked Ani's character. She was snobby, conceited, and shallow...things she grew into after enduring a horrible tragedy in her teenaged years. What I did not quite understand was how she could become such a nasty person after witnessing what the nastiness of others caused in high school. One would think that she would try to better herself and not become like the kids who bullied her and many others during those formidable years which led to so much tragedy. 

Overall, I give Luckiest Girl Alive a 6 out of 10, with its only redeeming factor being that it does pick up towards the end. This is the second novel I have purchased that was touted as the next Gone Girl and both have fallen incredibly short of that label. At this point, I think that the only novel that can honestly be the next Gone Girl is one written by Gillian Flynn.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Serious Lack of Productivity...

School has been out for two and half weeks and I feel like I have officially hit a wall. After dealing with the craziness of the school year, all I wanted to do was nothing, and that is essentially how I have been spending the last three weeks....doing nothing. Sure, I have walked 4+ miles every day and done a little bit of cleaning around the house, but nothing super productive and it is kind of boring.

I have decided to change that today. The next few weeks are going to be a little crazy with a beach trip, yearbook camp, and AP training...all three back to back to back, but once those are done and out of the way, I am hoping to actually spend the remaining five weeks of summer being productive. And I am sure my husband will appreciate me actually doing something during the day while he is at work too.

I have three major things on my summer to-do list:
1. paint at least one room in the house
2. organize office/guest room so that it is functional
3. begin organizing documents for teaching license recertification

While I cannot really do the first item until we hit our one year mark in the house and the builder comes to fix the cracks and nail pops that have appeared over the last twelve months, I think all three are completely doable once I return from the three weeks of crazy.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: In the Unlikely Event

School is officially out for the summer, which means more time to relax, work on things around the house, and, of course, read. After a sixteen-year hiatus in the world of adult fiction, Judy Blume, who is well-known for her children and young adult titles, such as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Blubber, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, returns with In the Unlikely Event, a hugely engaging and solid adult novel full of dept and humanity.

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In the Unlikely Event takes place in Blume's hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey during the early 1950s, when the city was shattered by three plane crashes within two months. The neighbors in the diverse, working class city are confused and frightened--how likely is such a thing to happen not once, but three times? Unsure of what is behind such a thing, many rumors begin to fly through the town...communists, aliens, another war.

Fifteen year old Miri Ammerman lives in Elizabeth with her single mother, uncle, and grandmother. She is the center of a large cast of character who tries to navigate this strange period when passenger planes fall from the skies into the center of their lives. Miri's uncle is a newspaper reporter and he gives firsthand reports of each crash, going back and interviewing everyone, and reporting analysis of the crashes. His first hand accounts are included in the novel, in newspaper format, which adds another layer of depth to the storyline.

In the Unlikely Event is a fully engaging novel, with a cast of characters that is almost too big, I had a lot of those, "Wait a minute, who is that again?" moments while reading. That was one of the major issues I had with the novel, as it was sometimes very difficult to figure out how each character fit into the story and what their background was. 

I give the novel an 8.5 out of 10 and I really hope Blume's talk of this being her last adult novel is just

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: Finders Keepers

I do not like scary things and for some reason, I used to think Stephen King only wrote scary books, so I refused to read any of them. My husband, on the other hand, LOVES Stephen King; in fact, The Stand is one of his favorite books and he buys King's novels like I buy versions of Harry Potter. When 11/22/63 was published in November 2011, David kept telling me how awesome it was, continually mentioning that it was more of a historical/science fiction-esque novel and there was nothing scary in it. I was intrigued, mainly because I find the Kennedy's fascinating, so I decided to give it a try...and read it in three days. Since then, I have read more of King's novels, and even gave It a try (could not finish it--nightmare inducing!). 

Last summer, I bought Mr. Mercedes for David as a just because present and ended up reading it myself after not liking anything else I picked up. I really liked the storyline and that it included so many elements of the mystery/detective genre, so I was super excited to learn that it was the first book in a trilogy.

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Just like Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers opens with a grisly murder scene; however, that and the return of Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, the heroes from the first book, are really the only similarities between the two novels. Where Mr. Mercedes was more of a straightforward detective/murder mystery, Finders Keepers is a literary thriller.

Rather than picking up where Mr. Mercedes left off, we instead meet Morris, the terrifying villain, and Pete, the teenaged hero. The two characters are separated by more than four decades and are incredibly different from one another, but what causes their lives to intersect is their shared passion for the writings of John Rothstein, a reclusive JD Salinger-type author.

The first third of the novel is pure and powerful storytelling, something that I am beginning to see is what King is fantastic at as I read more of his work. This part of the novel spans four decades, from the murder of Rothstein in the 1970s to the economic downturn in the US in the early 2000s to the murders accounted for in Mr. Mercedes. With the scene set, the final two thirds of the novel are complete, white-knuckle thriller. It is a not a mystery or a "who-done-it," as the reader knows who the bad guy is from the first chapter, but regardless, you find yourself on the edge of your seat (or in  y case, awake at 2:00am) as Pete desperately tries to save his family from Morris, all while Hodges, Holly, and Jerome are trying to save Pete.

Interspersed throughout the latter half of the novel are some truly chilling scenes between Hodges and Brady, the psychopathic murder from Mr. Mercedes, that seem to be setting us up for a terrifying final novel.

I give Finders Keepers a 10 out of 10 and highly recommend it (especially to David who needs to get in gear and read Mr. Mercedes as well).
  On a completely unrelated side note, I literally had to stop reading about 100 pages in, go into the office to grab a highlighter, and mark this line: "For readers, one of life's most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers--not just capable of doing it, but in love with it." Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone did that for me in sixth grade, but never have I seen such a beautiful way of describing it. This line is definitely going to be prominently displayed on my book wall when school starts back up in September, so thank you, Mr. King. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: The Mapmaker's Children

It is no secret that I love historical fiction; however, when the book is set in a location that I know and have been to....I am sold! When I saw that The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy was set fairly close to where David and I used to live in Northern Virginia, I was intrigued and knew I needed the book.

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Set in the Harper's Ferry/Charlestown area on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy tells two stories: one set pre-Civil War and the other in present time.

In 1859, Sarah Brown, the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, chooses to follow her own path in life, rather than conforming to the expectations of society. She is a talented artist and uses this skill to create maps for the Underground Railroad, since many of the escaping slaves were illiterate, but could understand pictures. She even tries to save her father from being put to death by smuggling a map to him in prison, but to no avail.

Sort of, but not exactly, mirroring the same story line of rebellion in present time, Eden is a woman who gave up her PR/marketing job to move to a historic home in West Virginia with her husband Jack. She and Jack have been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, which is putting a major strain on their marriage. 

Eden's storyline starts off a little dull and she comes across as a serious brat towards the little girl whom Jack is paying to care for their new dog, but I eventually warmed to her, especially when the two main characters' rebellions became more clear. While Sarah's rebellion is very in-your-face, Eden's is quieter. She is rebelling against what contemporary society deems to be female--someone who selflessly gives herself to her family, bearing her husband children, while also being independent and working...obviously not realistic, but that is how women are portrayed in the media today.

I absolutely adored Sarah's chapters and found her to be incredibly strong, both as a character in a novel and as a historical figure of that time period. And while I appreciated the juxposition of the two women, I really could have done without the hot and cold nature of Eden. I could not decide if I liked her or wanted to throttle her because of her treatment of everyone around her, including her new dog. All in all, though, The Mapmaker's Children was a fast read, one where I found myself wishing it had gone on for another few chapters, and I give it a 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: The House of Hawthorne

I was first introduced to Erika Robuck a few years ago when I stumbled across a copy of Hemingway's Girl at the library. I found the story enthralling and finished it in a day. It did not take me long to read all of Robuck's other novels that had been published up until that point and then I began pre-ordering her novels each year. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so it is no surprise that I would enjoy Robuck's novels; however, what makes me love them is that she chooses to writer about people who are associated with famous writers....writers whom I adore and teach in school. So far, Robuck has written about those associated with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, so when she announced her newest novel, I was really excited to see what would she come up with about Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

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Let me start by saying that prior to reading The House of Hawthorne, I knew next to nothing about Nathaniel Hawthorne and his life. While I teach The Scarlet Letter and various short stories to my 11th graders each year, my knowledge beyond his writing is minimal. The House of Hawthorne, rather than focusing on the more well-known author, focuses primarily on his wife Sophia.

Sophia is a young, sickly woman, who spends part of her early years in Cuba in order to have some time to recuperate in a tropical climate. Cuba changes Sophia'a life. The exotic atmosphere and environment inspire her as an artist. She feels her first attraction to a man and gives up all thoughts of remaining unmarried and dedicated to her art. She also encounters the horrors of slavery, something that stays with her throughout her life.

Upon returning from Cuba, she meets Nathaniel Hawthorne and the two immediately become enamored with one another.

The love between Nathaniel and Sophia is intense and is evident in their letters and other artifacts used to recreate their story; however, there is more to the novel than just a love story. The reader is able to live through Nathaniel Hawthorne's struggles of trying to make a living as a writing right alongside him. There are mentions of the Hawthorne's lives and friendships with Henry David Thoreau, the Emersons, and the Alcotts; the impact of the fighting in the colonies and how that directly influenced the family as they settled in England; and the tragedies and hardships of simply living during that time period. 

It is evident that Robuck did an immense amount of research and the result is a story that is not only believable, but exciting about two well-known literary and historical figures. Overall, I give The House of Hawthorne an 8.5 out of 10, as there were a few slower-paced parts of the novel. For the most part, though, I found the novel to be incredibly well-written and engaging.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!!!

As David and I are off to an out of town wedding this weekend, we are not able to spend Mother's Day with either of our moms. So, I wanted to write a special Mother's Day post to the most wonderful mom I know. 

My mom is absolutely wonderful. She is welcoming towards everyone she meets and just automatically loves them. Not only does she continue to take care of her family, but she is essentially the one who takes care of her entire school. We joke that the building must completely shut down when she is not there, but in reality, I think that is probably more realistic than a joke at this point. I am incredibly lucky to have her as a mom and I know that when it comes time for me to have children of my own, I have an excellent role model in my mother. 

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! You are fantastic and we could not have been more blessed to have you as our mom. Love you! :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: The Hidden Child

The other weekend, I went up to Washington, DC to visit the husband while he was at a weeklong nerd conference and along the way, I stopped at an adorable little bookstore in Arlington, One More Page Books. I spent way too much time, and money, in there, but it was so worth it. One of the books I purchased was published a few years ago, but the premise quickly shot it to the top of my "must read" list: psychological thriller about a woman uncovering WW2 family secrets. Yes please!

image courtesy of
The Hidden Child is the seventh book in the series by Camilla Lackberg (definitely did not know it was part of a series until after I finished it...oops!) that follows the lives of Patrik Hedstrom, a homicide detective, and Erica Falck, a true crime writer. 

A year after having their child and with Patrik home on paternity leave, Erica is getting back to work and writing a new novel. At the same time though, she finds an old Nazi medal mixed in with a trunk of her mother's old diaries. She takes the medal to a local historian, who is unfortunately murdered shortly after. This murder opens up a mystery that involves Erica's mother and other people who lived during the 1940s and the war. Erica becomes more involved in the mystery because of what she finds out about her mother. 

This is the first of Lackberg's novels I have read and while I really enjoyed the mystery and crime aspects of the story, I was actually somewhat taken aback by how much non-crime material there was. At 400 pages, the novel is stuffed with characters and personal stories. I understand that the reader would feel somewhat attached to the characters if they had read all the six previous books in the series, but there is just way too much to keep track of. I think I counted over forty named characters, so I found myself frequently thinking, "Who is this person and why is he here?" throughout the novel.

Other than that, the only thing I really did not enjoy were the mini-cliffhangers that interrupted the pages. Stories are told as short doses for each character. Lackberg would focus on one character for a page for two and then jump to the next character, oftentimes when new information was just being revealed, forcing the reader to wait until that character's next narration to learn what was so important. At the beginning of the story when there was not a whole lot happening, this was fine, but as the novel progressed, it became mildly annoying. 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Hidden Child and found the final revelations both plausible and interesting, earning this novel a 7 out of 10. I am definitely going to look into reading more novels by Lackberg.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

We Have a Patio!

Yep, that is right. 10 months after moving into our home, we finally have an outdoor living space in the backyard. Right now, it is only stone and a hand-me-down grill from a furniture..but that will come. I am just super excited it is all finished and it happened SO quickly. Xteriors Pavers started yesterday at 10:00am and as of 7:00pm today, they were finished. Amazing!!! Now for some pictures...

I love that they made the wall behind the grill slightly higher than a normal sitting wall to give the grill an anchor.

We are most likely going to add a few lounge-y chairs with a fire pit, as well as a dining table to this space.

The chair may go live in the trashcan soon...
And now my favorite picture of the whole process....

Warren supervised the entire patio installation process from the various windows downstairs. He is Lord Protector of the House.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: Where They Found Her

I LOVED Reconstructing Amelia, so when I found out Kimberly McCreight had recently published a new book, Where They Found Her, I was super excited about reading it. When it was delivered on Friday, I immediately delved into the twisty story and did not stop reading until it was finalized.

image courtesy of Goodreads
The setting of Where They Found Her is Ridgedale, New Jersey, a small college town. Molly Sanderson and her husband are recent transplants with Justin's new teaching position in the English department and Molly branching out as a reporter for the local newspaper. She is still grieving the loss of their second child, a stillborn daughter. Filling in for another reporter, Molly is called out to report on a body that has been discovered near a bridge, adjacent to the college.When she learns that the body is that of a newborn baby girl, she must not only face her continued grief over her loss, but also report the story to the best of her ability.

Where They Found Her is narrated by three women: Molly, Barbara, the mother of one of Molly's daughter's classmates, and Sandy, a teenager whose drug addicted mother has gone missing. Intermingled are flashbacks from other characters, Molly's new reports on the case, and transcripts from Molly's therapy sessions following the death of her baby. There are a TON of characters thrown at the reader in a very short time, along with numerous details, so it almost seems necessary to keep notes in order to keep track of all the characters, how they are related, and how each piece fits into the puzzle. Characters who do not, at first, appear to be part of the overall picture end up playing vital roles as the story unfolds. Little snippets are dropped and it is ultimately up to the reader to put all the parts together. It, at times, was a bit confusing.

While I really enjoyed the story (evidently, since I finished it in less than a day), I think the biggest issue was that there were just so many different stories in the novel that McCreight was trying to have come together. At times, it felt a little forced. Overall, I give Where They Found Her a 7.5 out of 10, but trust me when I say that should not stop you from reading the novel. It is still very captivating. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Easy Spring Wreath

Last week, David was gone on a work trip, so I made it my personal mission to spring-ify the house...mainly because Abby from Just a Girl and Her Blog had just participated in a spring home challenge and it inspired me. One thing on my to-do list was to make a super easy wreath for our front door. 

After a quick trip to Jo-Ann Fabric, I was ready to go.

Materials Needed:

  • 12 inch foam wreath form
  • natural colored twine
  • silk flowers
  • ribbon
  • glue gun

Start off by putting a little bit of hot glue on the wreath form and begin wrapping the twine around the form. As you wrap the twine, make sure each rotation is as close to the previous as possible to fully cover the foam. Every few inches, add a drop of glue to better hold the twine.

I decided to cover the foam twice to add a little more coverage and dimension, so after I made it around one full time, I just kept going.

After one full rotation of coverage

Halfway through second rotation of coverage

After the second coverage, I glued off the end and started in on the flowers. I was not sure how many flowers I would need, so I bought six white and six yellow. I started with a white flower head and just added additional flowers until I felt like it was enough. Of the twelve, I used eight. You could use less or more; that is completely up to you. NOTE: Depending on the size of your flowers, you may need to adjust the amount of glue you use. I did not want my flowers to be flimsy or risk falling off when the wind blew, so I used about a dime-sized amount of glue on each one.

Once my flowers were glued on, the only thing left was to add the ribbon, which would serve as the hanger. In total, I used about 16 inches of the ribbon.

This was a super easy wreath to make and only took one and a half episodes of Sex and the City to make (my new background noise since I have already run through all ten seasons of Friends on Netflix). My fingers hurt a little at the end due to wrapping the twine, but the final product was worth it. :)

the wreath could maybe be a little bigger, but oh well

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring Break Recap

This past week, the county I teach in was on spring break and trust me when I say that teachers love spring break just as much as students do. David was on a work trip, so I was home with the kitty all week. Originally, I had big plans to lesson plan for the fourth quarter (lame, I know), but that did not happen until Sunday night. Oops. Instead, I did some things around the house...and read. Here is a run down:

Organized the Kitchen

We have a pretty good amount of cabinet space in our kitchen, but we did not have any organization with our pots and pans. They were all awkwardly stacked and it was always super noisy to move them around when cooking. David's parents have a pot rack that hangs over their kitchen island and we really like how accessible everything is, but with our kitchen floor plan, that would not work. However, I found a pot rack from Amazon that we both really liked, so my parents got it for me for my birthday. After hanging it, I have decided I love it.

Our pans are all in one place and so easy to grab (without making a ton of noise). I plan on ordering some more hooks, so we can add some of our smaller pots to the rack. I really like that there is a small bookshelf on top. Originally, I was planning on putting my cookbooks there, but the shelf is not deep enough. However, it is perfect for a basket of tea towels (all from Belle & Union via Southern Weddings--I have an obsession and they are so useful!) and my recipe box (from Rifle Paper Co.). 

With the pans hanging on the wall, I bought an adjustable tray and lid organizer. Once it is delivered, I am going to install it in one of our lower cabinets to continue the trend of an organized kitchen.

Planted Some Things
I really want a raised garden bed so I can plant veggies and herbs in my backyard; however, I have difficulty keeping things alive. I guess I have a black thumb. So, rather than invest the money in a larger bed with tons of plants that might not live, I decided to make this spring/summer my trial run with smaller containers. If things go well, I will do the raised bed next spring. What started with just a few pots and containers sort of exploded though... 

strawberries, cherry tomatoes, zucchini squash, bell peppers (seed pod and plant), patio/container tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, basil (seed pod and plant)

I originally only planted a strawberry plant, but then the "Easter Bunny" gave me Miracle-Gro Gro-ables seed pods in my Easter basket for basil and bell peppers. I wanted to compare which would grow better, the seed pod or a seedling, so I planted the seed pods, as well as a seedling of both. With that, I thought I was done, but then I stumbled across tomato and zucchini plants on a run--a neighbor had over purchased and was giving away her extra plants in her driveway. My five pots then turned into nine. Oh well. Fingers crossed everything grows, and lives...

Updated the Porch
Our front porch is currently our only outdoor space and while we have some rocking chairs out there, it is pretty blah. So, I added some pillows to the chairs and a small table, which brightened things up a bit. I also added from potted flowers and changed out the garden flag in honor of Opening Day--Go Red Sox! 

My favorite update on the porch, though, is our door wreath. It is springy and cheery without being overly bright and in-your-face. While it potentially needs to be a little bigger, I think it works well for the time being. A how-to for the wreath will be on the blog later this week. :)


I am teaching The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to my 11th graders this quarter, so I re-read that (and watched the movie). But in addition to my "school" reading, I read some books for fun:

  1. The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor (post here)
  2. The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth (post here)
  3. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
My 9th graders think it is weird that I read so much, so they asked me to keep track of how many books I read in the week we were off. Not sure if they will be impressed or sickened.

Overall, it was pretty enjoyable spring break. :)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: The Secrets of Midwives

On a rainy, gross day, snuggling up with a book and a sleepy kitty is pretty great. What makes it even better is when the book is so well-written, it captures your attention early on and holds it until the very end. That is the case with The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth. 

image courtesy of
Hepworth's in-depth research offers an intriguing view into the world of midwifery, something I know absolutely nothing about, and covers a period of sixty years. Beyond the midwifery, and at the heart of the novel, are well-developed characters: three women from three generations who explore the mother-daughter relationship.

The chapters alternate from the first person point of view of grandmother Floss, to mother Grace, to daughter Neva, all three of whom are midwives. This structure, while not unique, works well to build the tension as the characters share their individual secrets and issues with the reader, but not with one another. Grace tends to be the least likable of the three; she is overly opinionated and slightly offensive with her intense hatred of doctors and hospitals. While Neva is easier to care about, it is Floss, a retired midwife, who is the most interesting of the three women. Her story transports the reader back in time to England, where she rides a bicycle to make house calls and deliver babies, before she comes across the Atlantic with her newborn daughter and settles in Rhode Island.

Floss carries a secret that she fears with destroy her relationship with Grace and Neva; however, she wonders if continuing to hide her secrets is perhaps more harmful than actually sharing them. Grace's secrets are of a totally different nature, but could have serious consequences if they are revealed. Neva is reticent, single, and pregnant. She hides her pregnancy for as long as possible, refusing to name the father of her child.

A strong thread throughout the novel examines marriage and adoption, as well as the concept of what makes a family a family, something that I feel resonated very strongly with me as a newly married woman balancing my new family (David and Warren, the cat) with that of my "old" family (my parents and sister). Hepworth not only examines multiple relationships in the novel, but she also moves flawlessly from one character's voice to another.

The Secrets of Midwives starts a bit slow, but the momentum begins to pick up by page thirty. This introduction is necessary, though, in order for Hepworth to establish the groundwork to create the story. Overall, it was a quick read and the characters were extremely well-written: fully fleshed out with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions brought into the story. I give The Secrets of Midwives an 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Came Home

Like most elementary-aged girls in the 90s, I became fascinated with the Titanic when James Cameron's film was released. I remember going to see the movie with my dad (and feeling really uncomfortable sitting next to him during the sex scene) and finding the story so beautiful--while also hating Rose because she let Jack die. More importantly, though, after watching the movie, I wanted to learn everything I could about the Titanic. I read books, watched documentaries, re-watched Titanic a million times, and even played a board game where, if I remember correctly, the premise was to see if you would live or die. Needless to say, when I saw The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor at Books-a-Million last weekend, I had to buy it.

image courtesy of
Like many novels that have been published recently, The Girl Who Came Home is told in alternating viewpoints, switching back and forth between Maggie Murphy, a seventeen year old girl who is traveling on the Titanic with her aunt and twelve others from her village in Ireland in 1912, and Grace Butler, Maggie's great-granddaughter and a budding journalist in Chicago in 1982. Grace, having just lost her father in a tragic car accident and with it, her love of journalism, appears to be in a life slump, that is until Maggie opens up to her about her experience on the Titanic. 

Maggie relives her life changing tragedy for her great-granddaughter, telling her of the young steward who saved her life, the girls she traveled with from her Irish village, and her experiences with the social class differences aboard the ship. All the while, Maggie tells Grace of how often her mind turned to Seamus, the young man from back home whom she was desperately in love with, and how deeply she cared for him. By reliving the past, Maggie is able to learn to let go, while, in turn, Grace learns how to hold on to the things she cares about.

While much of The Girl Who Came Home contained stories (a man who snuck onto one of the lifeboats disguised as a woman) and imagery (the little boy spinning a top on one of the decks of the ship) that I was already aware of, and, coincidentally enough, James Cameron showed in his film, Gaynor provided me with a story I was unfamiliar with. The characters and village in the novel, while fictional, are all based on real people and a real village near Killala in County Mayo in Ireland. "The Addergoole Fourteen" were a group of men and woman from there who sailed on the Titanic. Only three survived. Even though the characters in the novel are fictitious, their stories are riveting nonetheless.

The details that Gaynor provides are what gives the story depth, though. She richly details the aesthetics of the ship and how those on board behaved during the voyage. Also, sprinkled throughout the novel are telegrams sent and received by those on board the Titanic, as well as letters between the characters to further the plot. The book tended to be a little slow moving at times, but even so, the ending was unexpected; I did not think there were going to be any surprises, but I was very happy for the last reveal. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and there were times that I wanted to reach into the pages and rescue the people from the freezing waters of the Atlantic. I could physically feel Maggie's longing for Seamus, as well as her devastation of that horrible night. I give The Girl Who Came Home an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it for anyone who is interested in this moment in history, with an appreciation for romance.

Monday, April 6, 2015

60 Before 30

Saturday was my birthday and now that I am 27, I feel...older. This is the first birthday where I truly feel like I am older and more adult. Maybe it is because my students spent all last week making me feel old (I had to explain what Total Request Live was and we had an in-depth discussion about the merits of the Spice Girls) and while feeling older is not a bad thing at all, I am now realizing that I am no longer in my mid-twenties. Nope, 27 counts as late-twenties and I can actually see 30 on the horizon.

I have been thinking about this birthday for awhile. On New Year's Day, while the husband was working in the home office, I sat and reflected on 2014 (Got married! Bought a house! Started a new job!) and what I wanted to accomplish in 2015. I have never really been one for goals, but I was inspired by Emily on Em for Marvelous who regularly blogs about her monthly and yearly goals. I like the thoughtful deliberation that goes into creating the goals and I feel like she is really holding herself accountable by putting them out there for the world to see. Last year, when she turned 27, she created a list of the 60 things she wanted to accomplish by the time she turned 30. I LOVED that idea and I was actually really happy to see that we had some of the same goals. Her post stuck with me and on New Year's Day of this year, I began crafting my own list. I did not actually have all 60 things until the last week or so, but I found myself checking a few things off here and there over the last four months and I felt so great about that (it is not cheating and I did not replace the few things I completed). A lot of my goals are home-related, but I think that just goes along with the point I am at in my life. 

State Date: January 1, 2015
End Date: April 4, 2018
Items Completed: 11
  1. Cultivate a strawberry or raspberry bush
  2. Grow a small cutting garden with roses, hydrangeas, or peonies
  3. Start a small vegetable and herb garden in the backyard
  4. Order an heirloom quality wedding album for our home completed January 2015
  5. Celebrate our one year anniversary completed June 2015
  6. ...and our two year!
  7. ...and our three year!
  8. Expand our family
  9. Host a themed party
  10. Make our front porch comfortable and inviting
  11. Renovate the backyard so it is a great place to gather--this includes adding a deck or patio completed April 2015, post here
  12. Go to a flea market--and buy something
  13. Make a will
  14. Transfer car title from parents
  15. Create a drop zone or mudroom area near the garage door completed January 2015, post here
  16. Add curtains to the family room and dining room
  17. Paint the downstairs (kitchen, family room, and dining room) completed August 2015
  18. Install a backsplash in the kitchen
  19. Add some sort of organizational system to the kitchen that holds the pots and pans to make things easier to find and more accessible completed April 2015
  20. Paint our bedroom
  21. Hang the gallery wall over the sofa in the family room completed January 2015, post here
  22. Buy a headboard/frame for our bedroom completed March 2015, post here
  23. Learn to French braid
  24. Make a quilt
  25. Crochet or knit a blanket
  26. Get in shape and to my goal weight
  27. Save money
  28. Pay off credit card
  29. Visit three new cities  in progress...San Diego in October 2015
  30. Make at least one friend in the neighborhood completed August 2015
  31. Join or start a book club
  32. Install a rain barrel
  33. Attend a Broadway show with David
  34. See more of New England--beyond just Boston
  35. Start a blog completed February 2015, post here
  36. Begin creating yearly family "yearbooks" to capture our lives together
  37. Wake up earlier (regularly at 8am or before) and establish a consistent morning routine that energizes me
  38. Send someone flowers out of the blue
  39. Learn some photography skills beyond just "point and shoot"
  40. Organize the books in our home library
  41. Begin working towards (or even complete!) an endorsement to my teaching license in administration, library and media studies, or reading
  42. Get certified to teach AP English Language and Composition completed July 2015
  43. Make a presentation in an English-based, educational setting
  44. Visit Aunt Babe in Wisconsin
  45. Go to a Patriots game in Foxborough with David
  46. Gather and display frame family photos from both sides of the family (parents and grandparents)
  47. Host either Christmas or Thanksgiving with both sides of the family--or at least both sets of parents
  48. Go to Europe with David--or at least begin planning the trip
  49. Donate/sell old clothes and shoes I no longer wear
  50. Take a new-to-me class, such as an exercise class, cooking class, art class, etc.
  51. Learn how to ski-- or at least attempt it
  52. Learn how to drive stick shift
  53. Take a sister-only weekend trip somewhere with Rachel 
  54. Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando
  55. Join and semi-regularly attend church
  56. Plan a fun surprise date for David
  57. Get my pearls and wedding ring insured
  58. Go back to Phoenix and hike Camelback Mountain
  59. Visit Colonial Williamsburg at Christmastime
  60. Make homemade jam
While I may not be able to complete all 60 items on my list, I am really looking forward to trying. :)