my week in pictures 8/31

So long, August! How crazy is that? Though it means my birthday is only a week away. Bring it, cake.

The early part of the week was spent celebrating my dad’s birthday and, silly me, I forgot to take pictures. Except for the chickens – I’m from the country so it’s a normal thing for a horde of turkeys to randomly waltz down the road. Haha, I love Matt’s reactions to this strange new world (he’s a total city boy). There were some chickens wandering about the yard and of course I had to snap a few pictures! The best part though? A cousin I haven’t seen in years is back in town & it was lovely seeing her. We’ve got so much to catch up on! Being cousins when you’re 8 is completely different than being cousins in your 20s and I’m thrilled to get to know her all over again!

Remember when I was on vacation a few weeks ago and mentioned the kitty my friends brought? Matt and I fell madly in love with Leo (♥ such a charmer!) and he surprised me this weekend by announcing Leo would be staying with us for a few days! So he doesn’t look at all happy in the picture (he was dying to jump around on my desk) but he’s a total cuddlemuffin and I’ll be sad when we give him back tomorrow.

I received a ton of books this week:
FROM THE LIBRARY
The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
While my heart lies with the Civil War, the Revolution was a fascinating time and this novel follows the wife of Benedict Arnold. I know I’ll be in for a great time with this one!
The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
More Historical Fiction! This one takes place in the 1830s in a textile mill and follows the factory girl who falls for the mill owner’s son. Yes please!

FOR REVIEW
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
A retelling of Rapunzel set in France during the reign of King Louis XIV. Um yes. Even more exciting: I was asked to participate in the blog tour! YAY.
Wouldn’t it Be Deadly by D.E. Ireland
This is the first in the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series. And, really, that’s all you need to know that this series will be amazing.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
I love me some Mountain Goats and when I heard John was coming out with a novel you bet I needed it in my life. I’m currently reading it and it’s such a hipster book – but I am all. about. hipster books (and the cover is SO SHINY). Keep an eye out for a review soon!
The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
Okay, not gonna lie: the math part worries terrifies me. I am NOT a math kind of gal. It sounds great though and has been compared to Michael Chabon’s works – a definite plus!

(A big THANK YOU to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Minotaur Books, Penguin, & Thomas Dunne Books!!)

In Case You Missed It
Delia Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) is a slim collection of essays and my emotions ran the gamut. From thoughts on her sister’s passing to why her dad would have been the greatest tweeter ever, Delia’s essays are sure to resonate with readers. 3/5
brown girl dreaming was my introduction to Jacqueline Woodson and it this book isn’t in your hands right now you need to fix that. This is her memoir – written in verse – about her childhood in the South. GORGEOUS. Breathtaking. Beautiful. I cannot say enough about this book. 5/5

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Pub. Date: August 28, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin!!)
Summary: In vivid poems, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Raised in South Carolina and later New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place, and she describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Genre: YA/MG, Memoir, Verse
Rating:

Writing a review for brown girl dreaming doesn’t seem fair at all. How does someone rate a memoir? A biography? A young girl’s life so beautifully-written and heartbreaking it steals your breath away? brown girl dreaming is so much more than I could ever say and my words could never compare to Woodson’s.

Initially I was a bit hesitant to try out a novel written in verse. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to ‘get it,’ that I wouldn’t be able to get a real feel for the characters and the setting. ..haha! Ms. Woodson stomped all over my reservations and I tore through this book in a day. I was floored by the power of her words and as I’m writing this review I’m noticing the effect it’s had: my normally long-winded and flowery sentences and short and direct. Half a sentence in some cases! A month later brown girl dreaming still lingers in my mind and made a lasting impression.

Jacqueline was born in Ohio and moved to South Carolina a few years later. Even as a child she noticed the differences between the North and the South. In South Carolina she could only visit certain restaurants, use certain restrooms. Her grandparents were her rock, however – particularly her beloved grandfather, Daddy. The way she wrote about these two wonderful people it was clearly evident she thought – and still thinks! – the world of them. They were her stable footing in a world vastly different than the one she had come from. When her mother became a part of the civil rights movement and left for New York, Jacqueline and her siblings stayed behind, always looking forward to the phone calls and that far-away day when their family would be reunited.

Ms. Woodson writes openly about death, prison, race. That she’s so matter-of-fact about it, this is how it is is shocking and painful. As a Middle Class White girl, so many things Jacqueline dealt with on a daily basis have never been set before me and to see the world from her perspective brought me to tears multiple times. I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts; brown girl dreaming was that bittersweet and beautiful.

Nothing I say could possible do this gorgeous story justice. brown girl dreaming is an emotional, raw, heart-wrenching look into a young girl’s life and it broke me. I didn’t tear up, I sobbed. I cheered Jacqueline on as she discovered her love of writing, I laughed right along with her as she played with her best friend. Any worry I had about the verse format completely and utterly vanished and I feel silly for ever having worried in the first place. Jacqueline Woodson has solidified her place in literature and I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say brown girl dreaming is my introduction to her work. Her books have won multiple awards: the Newbery, the Caldecott, National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a lifetime achievement award, the list goes on and on. Now that I’m aware of her work (and their impact) I’ve got some catching up to do.

brown girl dreaming is a book I need to own in hardback; a review copy just won’t cut it. This is a story I want to cherish and share and I want it to have a permanent place on my shelves. There are so many words I keep repeating: gorgeous, beautiful, raw, heart-breaking, and although I feel like a broken record, brown girl dreaming IS all of these things – and so, so much more. I cannot say enough about this memoir. Go out and buy a copy now.

NOTABLE QUOTES

I want to write this down, that the revolution is like
a merry-go-round, history always being made
somewhere. And maybe for a short time, we’re a part of that history. And then the ride stops
and our turn is over.

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron
Pub. Date: August 26, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Plume!)
Summary: Delia Ephron brings her trademark wit and effervescent prose to a series of autobiographical essays about life, love, sisterhood, movies, and family. From keen observations on modern living, the joy of girlfriends, and best-friendship, to a consideration of the magical madness and miracle of dogs, to haunting recollections of life with her famed screenwriter mother and growing up the child of alcoholics, Ephron’s eloquent style and voice illuminate every page of this superb and singular work.
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Rating:

Two years ago the world lost a beloved writer, director, and all-around good person with Nora Ephron’s passing. I’ll admit that, until reading this book, I hadn’t realized just how much Nora did. As a bookseller I’m well aware of her books, but her movies? I’m ashamed to say I had no idea classics like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail (an absolute favorite in our household!), and When Harry Met Sally were Nora’s creations. Anyone who enjoys rom-com, feel good films has Nora to thank.

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) is Delia Ephron’s collection of essays, part memoir, part biographical, part musing on life. I wasn’t quite sure what to think going into it, but once I got started I couldn’t stop. Clocking in at a mere 220 pages, this book runs the gamut of emotion: I teared up at Delia’s recollection of Nora’s final moments (and coming to terms with the loss of her sister). I delighted at the passages about the bakeries and cafes she frequents. I laughed and smiled and wept at her thoughts on dogs (I’ll let you in on a little secret: add a dog into your novel and I’ll not only read it, but I’ll openly rejoice AND sob – unless it’s a happy story and all stories involving dogs should be happy ones).

Every so often I’ll get into a non-fic mood and Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) suited this perfectly. Because the essays are around ten pages (and that’s on the long side!), reading was a breeze. The day I read this was a day full of errands, including a trip to everyone’s favorite place: the DMV. There are moments when the universe aligns just so and that was one of them. What would have been a hassle and painful experience turned out to be a, dare I say it, rather enjoyable hour! The bite-sized stories in this book are absolutely fantastic for those odd chunks of time spent waiting, not to say that I equate Deliah Ephron’s work to spending the day at the DMV!

With a novel this small, there’s a surprising amount of substance! Delia’s humor positively shines (I especially adore her essay entitled #TheHairReport where she gives hair reports based on the weather – “Beautiful. A Beyonce day.” and “Cold. Sacrifice hair for ears. Wear hat.“), but just as quickly she’ll turn it upside-down with memories of her parents’ battles with alcoholism (a battle her mother ultimately lost).

Through musings on how her father would have loved Twitter to what Having It All really means (and how high school set the bar for success) to having her domain name stolen, Delia Ephron dishes out wit and charm in spades. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) is the quintessential one-sitting read – though you’ll want to have a buddy on hand, there are so many passages that are virtually screaming to be read aloud!

NOTABLE QUOTES

(Verb tense has begun to confuse me. I have three sisters, I had three sisters. I have two sisters. I have three sisters. Nora is a national treasure.)

New Yorkers are born all over the country and then they come to the city and it strikes them: “Oh, this is who I am.”

(Actually you only have to watch Seinfeld to know everything. There is a Seinfeld episode for every single thing that happens in life, which is a remarkable achievement.)

Never underestimate the power of high school. It’s the identity everyone wants to live down, the approval everyone aspires to. Being able to check the boxes – marriage, children, career – is more important at a high school reunion than anywhere else, which is why I think that high school, not feminism, is the reason an idea of happiness got framed this way. It instantly creates the social world of high school: haves, have-nots, wannabes, and freaks. Freaks are those who aspires to other versions of life, who want to march to their own tune. Thanks to this definition of success, they will always be freaks. Freaks forever.

my week in pictures: time to head back to the real world

After a wonderful, wonderful, oh-so-wonderful ten days off, it’s time to head back to work tomorrow and I’m SO not ready to put on real clothes/make-up haha! Every year we head up to a cabin near Erie and relax. Our friends brought their kitten with them and we survived the week without murdering one another. Success!

Take another look at that photo of me and Matt. That hoodie I’m wearing? Yeah. Unfortunately, it was freezing the entire week. Mid 60s (I think two days it reached the low 70s – absolutely perfect weather the day we went on a 4-mile bike ride around the island!) and with the breeze coming off the lake it was way too cold to swim, which was a huge bummer. Instead, we got out and about and one of our stops was the Erie Zoo. For such a touristy city, the zoo is seriously tiny (they don’t even have an elephant!). Pittsburgh’s zoo is by far better. ♥ #StillerNation y’all.

Matt’s a HUGE Cirque du Soleil fan and when he found out Varekai would be in town he immediately bought the tickets. I’m a total newbie and had no idea what to expect – afterwards I was talking with a friend on facebook and described the show as “similar to Willy Wonka’s boat ride from hell – but in a good way.” The colors, the costumes, the music were all phenomenal! I took the photo of the stage from my seat; we were so close the performers would swing out over the stage and right above us. I’m still in awe of the athleticism and strength of the entire cast!

I don’t like being the center of attention. Unfortunately, Matt forgot to mention the bit about the act that comes out and interacts with the crowd… At one point Matt fell victim to their shenanigans and I was petrified I’d be next. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I would have died if I had been one of the people selected to go on stage.

Earlier that day we drove out to a teensy tiny winery (we love our wineries) for their peach festival. Wine, pie, pastries, we were in heaven. Sadly, today is my last day of vacation and I’m hoping to make the most of it!

In Case You Missed It (because of vacation, this will cover the past few weeks!)
July recap!
August’s Gotta Read It novels
Putting my Book Jar to use
2AM at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is an incredible under-the-radar novel about a jazz club about to be closed, an elementary school teacher moving back home, and the sassiest nine-year-old I’ve ever come across. Told over the course of one day, this novel weaves their stories together and it was heavenly! 4/5
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero is another book that didn’t generate a lot of buzz but was highly entertaining. I’m usually not big on epistolary novels, but this one sucked me in. A haunted estate, a mute Punk rocker, an age-old secret society, what’s not to love about this one? 3/5
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen made Poe out to be a sex god, but other than that, I enjoyed this one. Quick-paced and engaging. 4/5
Omens and Visions by Kelley Armstrong are the first two novels in her new Cainsville series and I fell hard. 4.5/5

Omens and Visions by Kelley Armstrong


Omens (Cainsville #1) | Visions (Cainsville #2)
A big THANK YOU to Dutton for a finished copy of Visions!

Because I’m not a binge-reader, I rarely review series in one go. However, I’ve recently discovered vacations are the perfect opportunity to really dive into a new world for an extended visit. I’m also not a big reader of Urban Fantasy, so (spoiler!) I was completely shocked when I not only tore through both of these books, but that I really – REALLY – enjoyed them as well!

Olivia Taylor-Jones is a socialite’s socialite. As the heir to a department store empire, Liv had it all: vintage sports cars, an Ivy League education, the perfect fiance. Unfortunately, disaster struck when she discovered the secrets her parents kept from her all these years: not only was she adopted, but her parents? The notorious Larsens, locked away in maximum-security prisons after being found guilty of a string of serial murders. Oh, sure, Olivia’s still in the public eye, but in a much different way than she’s used to.

With her beloved father passed on and her mother suddenly not-so-doting, Olivia realizes she needs to get out. Now. Her world has turned upside-down – for the worst; she has no idea who she is, are her future-husband’s political dreams ruined? James claims he doesn’t care about her real lineage, but Olivia needs answers. She needs to talk to the Larsens and discover for herself who these people are.

Olivia finds herself in Cainsville, an odd little town that rallies around its own and isn’t quick to give up its secrets. Gargoyles decorate the town steeped deep in folklore and soon she’s remembering snippets of rhymes from her childhood. Poppies are harbingers of death, you never want to see a group of ten ravens, black cats are actually good luck. With the help of Gabriel Walsh, Pamela Larsen’s lawyer, Olivia looks into the murders her birth parents supposedly committed (along with finding out just who she really is and what these strange visions and rhymes mean). Through in a physic for a neighbor and a group of elders who are far more agile than they’re letting on, and you’ve got the makings of a great new series!

Brush up on your Welsh, folks. You’re going to need it with Cainsville! In an author’s note in Omens, Armstrong states she intentionally left out any kind of translation or contextual clues. I cheated a bit and Googled some of the phrases. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil those, but trust me: you’ll want to find out more! Cainsville definitely isn’t your normal sleepy town. Nope. Not at all. There are things going on here – Big Things.

Visions picks up almost immediately where Omens ended and, because I read them together, this transition was perfect. Olivia is a great character, she’s got substance to her. She’s in an incredibly crappy situation, but she’s making the best of it and, ultimately, comes out on top. Gabriel walks a fine, fine line between jerk and lovable jerk (his aunt is the town psychic, by the way!). Gabriel’s all no-nonsense and I felt their personalities meshed so well together. Don’t worry about romance bogging down the plot. After two books this pair still maintains a healthy business partnership: initially Olivia takes Gabriel on as her own lawyer only for Gabriel to later hire Liv on as an investigator for his firm. Sure there’s romance in the series, but not between these two (and, honestly, I’m a little disappointed! Fingers crossed for sparks to fly in book three!).

There’s so much to talk about, but anything I say would be a HUGE spoiler. If you’re a fan of mythology, folklore, mysterious towns, HELLHOUNDS, biker gangs, serial killers, omens and portents, and sassy cats, Cainsville is the series for you. I tore through these books – and they’re definitely not short reads. However, the writing is blindingly fast and the story completely sucked me in..these 400+-page chunksters were one-sitting reads. THAT is how much I loved these books. Only two things leave me upset: 1) I’ve never read anything of Armstrong’s before this (I’ve been missing out on some seriously good stuff!) and 2) I have to wait an entire year for the third book!

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Pub. Date: October 1, 2013
Source: Bought
Summary: The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar’s frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself…
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating:

To say I’m a fan of Poe is a bit of an understatement. At the risk of sounding extremely pompous, I think of myself as an amateur (VERY amateur!) Poe scholar – and even typing that has me cringing. I’ve traveled to his gravesite multiple times, visited his home on numerous occasions, and basically try to read everything about him I can get my hands on. Mrs. Poe naturally caught my eye when it first came out last year, but it wasn’t until my recent vacation (bless you, book jar!), that I finally had the chance to sit down and read it.

As much as I love Biographical Fiction, I was a little hesitant going into this one; that blurb is terrible and makes Poe out to be some sleezy sex god who goes up and down the coast wooing women. While there’s no evidence to support the two had an affair, they wrote multiple poems to each other (both through subtle hints and on full display) and Frances received quite a few letters from her friends (namely Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet who went so far as to insinuate Poe was the father of Frances’s third child) urging her to break contact with the entire Poe family. There was even an instance where Mrs. Sarah Whitman wrote, simply asking about Poe’s health and Frances refused to reply (if you’re curious about any of these letters and would love to read an incredibly in-depth account of Poe’s life, hunt down a copy of The Poe Log by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson – it’s so worth it!).

I can easily see why a writer would be intrigued and latch onto these two, putting a romantic spin on their friendship. I actually enjoyed Mrs. Poe! Unfortunately, it’s received a LOT of hateful comments and I think people are forgetting the fiction aspect of historical fiction.

The novel opens with a newly-abandoned Frances Osgood attempting to pick up the pieces of her life and find a way to get back on her feet. Her husband Samuel, a well-known painter, has left her for someone far younger and richer and will remain gone until he gets bored. Frances is taken in by her friends, providing both Fanny and her daughters with a place to stay. Fanny’s first collection of poetry did reasonably well and she’s trying to recreate that success – unfortunately, these days, the public would rather read frightening tales like Mr. Poe’s than her love poems and flowery prose.

Mrs. Poe reads like a Who’s Who of the 1840s. Every single get-together and lecture is bursting to the brim with name-dropping (from Walt Whitman to Mathew Brady to the inventor of Graham crackers). Personally I enjoyed this and thought it was fun to see just who would show up. It’s at one of these conversaziones that Fanny and Poe are introduced, kickstarting a friendship that would soon lead to something more. Because the two are both married, any public display of affection would not only be frowned upon, but would utterly ruin their reputations. As such, they keep their feelings hidden, passing letters back and forth, publishing poetry, etc. Fanny even makes it a point of becoming friends with Mrs. Poe!

Once the two meet and the affair begins, the rest of the plot falls to the side and the novel turns into scenes where the two are put into situations where they can interact, be it a societal meeting, an innocent calling at the Bartletts’ home where Fanny is staying, or an invitation for a picnic with the Poe family. There seriously isn’t much in the way of plot, but I was okay with that. I don’t know if it was because I was on vacation when I read this and more open to a carefree read, but I truly didn’t mind the book’s focus on getting the two together. There were multiple chapters where Poe simply appears out of nowhere – Fanny’s walking down the streets in New York (not a tiny little village!) and Poe somehow always knows where to find her.

The one thing I didn’t like about the novel was Mrs. Poe herself. Virginia is made out to be a horrible, vindictive, selfish child. She all but throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way and has no problem seeking revenge on those she feels have wronged her. Admittedly she’s a mere 23 to the others’ mid-30s, but this characterization rubbed me the wrong way. In reality Edgar and Virginia were very much in love – here, however, Poe mentions he can’t wait for her to succumb to her illness (“I’ll get rid of her,” and “But when she dies-,” are just two examples) and spurs her every move.

One other minor detail I noticed was a character that might have been Teddy Roosevelt..?

A mustachioed youth sauntered past, twirling a cane and arranging his face in a superior sneer, a task made difficult by the squint that was necessary to keep a monocle to his eye.
[...]
“Oh dear,” I said, “Does young Mr. Roosevelt realize what a ridiculous figure he cuts?”

My first thought was that this was meant to be Teddy. However, that can’t possibly be the case – he wasn’t born until 1858 – nearly ten years after Poe died. His father was also named Theodore and grew up in New York where this novel is set. This ‘young Mr. Roosevelt’ could possibly by Theodore Sr., but he would have only been 14 in this scene. Just who is this person?? Was it all an author error?

Apart from those grievances, I had a fun time reading Mrs. Poe – and that’s high praise coming from a Poe fan. The characters the reader is supposed to root for simply aren’t likable and the villains are completely maligned in their characterization. I suppose it’s odd that sentence comes right after my praise of the novel, but so be it. I feel that as long as you understand this is a work of fiction rather this historical fact, you should have no problem reading – and enjoying – Mrs. Poe.

One final annoyance that has nothing to do with the actual story: at the end of the novel there’s a Reader’s Guide complete with an author interview. While Poe’s name (Edgar Allan) was spelled correctly throughout the book, Simon & Schuster spelled it as Allen MULTIPLE TIMES in their interview questions. Oh dear..

vacation + the first book jar picks!

Today kicks off my vacation and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Things will be a bit quiet around here until I get back, but don’t worry – I’ve got some posts in the works that I’m very excited for!!

Remember that book jar DIY I posted a few weeks ago? :) I finally got a chance to put it to good use! Since I’ll be spending the majority of my time at the beach I didn’t want to go too overboard, so I only selected three stars:

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl

A short story collection from one of my favorite authors? Could this be a more perfect vacation pick??? Barely 150 pages, easily read in tiny bits..♥ Definitely looking forward to this one!

The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

One of my dreams is to become a beekeeper (haha, despite Matt’s protests against having tens of thousands of bees in our yard!) and this slim book focuses on one man, his truck, and his hives. With bees dying out all over the world, farmers are having a very difficult time growing crops. That’s where John Miller steps in. He drives his colonies around the country, visiting farms and allowing his bees to do what they do best.

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

If you know me you know I’m a HUGE Poe fan. Naturally any book featuring him is one I need to get my hands on!

Okay, so I’m loving these picks! They’re all pretty short and there’s an awesomely diverse selection: historical fiction, short stories, non-fic. VERY happy with these! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they’re all as wonderful as they sound!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?? Is my vacation going to suck because of these books?