TLC Book Tours: The Perfect Girl

9780062476760_p0_v5_s192x300Zoe Maisey is the perfect girl. Or she was, before the accident that nearly killed her, and killed three of her friends that were in the car that Zoe was driving. She’s the main character in Gilly Macmillan’s The Perfect Girl.  She’s 17 years old, and this drastically changes her life, and the lives of her parents. The story is told from the perspective of several different characters, including Zoe, her aunt, and Zoe’s lawyer Sam.  It’s meant to be a page turner, though I found it sort of tedious turning those pages. From the very beginning it was hard to connect or even get interested in the characters.

thumbnail_tlc-tour-host-jpgZoe had been a talented and accomplished piano player, though the accident and its aftermath stalled her practice, she was able to get back to playing. The story starts with one of her performances in which one of the fathers of one of the kids who died in the accident shows up and disrupts the recital. This is jarring, and though the recital continues, it brings up so much unresolved anger and hurt.  She was only 14 when the accident happened, and obviously unable to drive legally, and had only done so to impress some of the more popular kids at her school. Though considered a prodigy, she still struggled to fit in at school, a struggle most teenagers experience.  Further alienating her from her peers at school was her scholarship at a prestigious private school, where everyone seemed to think she didn’t belong.

The same evening her recital is interrupted, her mother mysteriously dies. This isn’t a spoiler, it is revealed in the first couple of chapters. The mystery unfolds in the rest of the book. Though the story is told from multiple perspectives, I think in this switching around the narrative is kind of lost.

In the end there is sympathy evoked for Zoe.  People don’t exist in this dichotomy of either all good or all bad. She’s somewhere in the middle. She is of course changed by these two major events, and seems to have some sort of redemption at the end of the book. I really wanted to like the story, and to like her, but it was just hard to. Her story was a good one, and I can so relate to trying something crazy just to fit in.  But no one else in her life (from whom the story is also told through their various perspectives) seems likable.  The story starts out at a fast pace, but but I got lost pretty quick.  I have heard praise for Macmillan’s other book What She Knew, and I just might give that one a try!  I love a good thriller, but with this one I wasn’t exactly thrilled.

I received this book from Harpers Collins Publishing and TLC Book Tours.

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1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

1000-books-logoWe love living in Virginia Beach.  Though it’s not a huge city, the city itself offers so many great resources.  One thing I love most about the city is the library.  We go at least once week, and having been going that often since my daughter was born.  She is now 5, just started kindergarten.  I started when she was a baby checking out a stack of board books, and now we have worked our way up to short chapter books.  A couple of years ago the Virginia Beach Public Library launched a program to get more kids reading, 1000 Books Before kindergarten.

Reading is so important to me, and is such a huge part of my life.  So is the library, and I would love to pass this passion down to my daughter.  Getting her involved was easy, and we were already reading books.  To participate in the program:

  • Register – Register at the library, pick up a reading folder and first reading log.
  • Track Your Reading – Every book you read to you child, enter on the list
  • Show us Your Reading Logs – Each list has enough space for 100 books.  When you finish a sheet, bring it in, get a special sticker, get a new list.
  • Read More Books – Keep reading until you reach 1,000 books!!
  • Celebrate! – When your child has finished the list, they win a new backpack, and get a certificate to keep!

Reading the books was easy, she was so excited when we turned her list in a week before school started this summer that she got a new backpack.  When I was growing up, my elementary school had a rewards program for students who read 100 books a year.  My Mom made sure I did it every year.  Your library may not have this specific program, but may offer other reading rewards programs.  Check it out!

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month began September 15, and lasts until the middle of October.  Though not celebrated traditionally as a “calendar” month, the date marks an important event in Latin American history – five countries achieved their independence that day.  And as lovers of books, there happen to be some of our favorites that were written by Hispanic writers.  One of my favorite writers, Junot Diaz, has broadened my horizons.  These writers are a unique voice, helping give voice and identity to those in the Hispanic community, which in the United States is over 50 million people.  Through them, we learn 51ker5sai2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_more about Hispanic culture.  In honor of this occasion, here is just a short list of our favorites:

The House on Mango Street By Sandra Cisneros – this book was first published over 25 years ago.  Then there weren’t that many popular Hispanic writers.  Now there seem to be quite a bit more, but Cisneros helped to pave the way.

Isabelle Allende has published a few books, but just a few months ago I read Maya’s Notebook.  I really enjoyed reading it, 41ddz2em6hl-_sx320_bo1204203200_and through the eyes of a troubled teen learned so much about Chilean culture.

Junot Diaz has written a few books in a relatively short writing career.  I have read each one, and loved each one.  I first read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a few years ago.  It was chosen by my book club and I remember being the only one who really liked it.  He also wrote  This Is How You Lose Her, which is his most recent book.  That came out three years ago, and since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting what comes next.

51geb2rdxjl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Pam Munoz Ryan is known for writing several books for young readers, focused on strong female characters.  A friend recommended Esperanza Risingand it has been on my TBR list for a while.  Maybe this month I’ll actually get around to reading it!!

Like Water for Chocolate  by Laura Esquivel is a great example of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s style.  I loved the book, and I really loved the movie!  Going deep into Mexican culture and history, there is love, magic, and revolution.

We are always in search of a good book.  In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, this can be your guide to some of the most prolific Hispanic writers.  Of course there are many more – and this only the beginning!  For more information, please visit http://www.hispanicheritagemonth.org.

New Fiction Friday: By the Numbers

unknownIn my mind, Jen Lancaster can do no wrong. I have read each one of her books and have enjoyed each one. Admittedly, some are better than others, but she never disappoints. I love her sense of humor, and I don’t think in all of the books she’s written there hasn’t been a laugh out loud moment. Her latest book, By the Numbers is one of her best works of fiction.  She’s at her best when writing about herself, and though I see a bit of her in her characters, in this book are her best characters yet.

IMG_0523Penny is her main character, and she lives in a giant old home, alone, a home that reminds me of so many featured in Lancaster’s work. Lancaster lives in Chicago, and I’m pretty sure the city has been the location of all of her books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love the city, and I know she does too, she.  In her first couple of books, which were hilarious memoirs about life in the city, leaving the corporate world, and her many pets, she lived in the city. After the success of her first books, she and her husband were able to move to the north shore. There, in Lake Forest is where Penny lives. In a home she had her husband fixed up, where they raised their three children. She now lives in this home alone, filled with memories.

It’s there that her older daughter wants to have her wedding.  After her divorce, and the kids had grown up and moved out, she had planned on putting the house on the market. Her daughter insisted on having her wedding there though, so Penny postponed selling the house. This change of plans brings everyone back home, including her ex husband.

The story’s ending was surprising, and really really sweet.  I feel like Lancaster has found a good voice in Penny, not in some of the younger characters that have appeared in her books. Penny’s daughters are the usual age of her characters, or so it seems. I think she needs to allow her characters to age, as she does, there’s a sincerity in these characters, and authenticity.  I’m looking forward to her next memoir – although there’s no news of that yet!

TLC Book Tours: Do Your Om Thing

thumbnail_do-your-om-thing-coverYoga has never been my thing. I know it should be my thing. I have tried yoga several times, but haven’t managed to stick with a routine.  Each time I did feel great – strong, relaxed, centered.  Yet, every time I started yoga, I found a reason to stop. Do Your Om Thing is meant to encourage, and demystify the practice of yoga and meditation. Written by Rebecca Pacheco, who has been practicing and teaching for many years, she also blogs at Om Girl. She promises that her book will not be preachy, hence the title, and instead she aims to make yoga more accessible. She mentions her yoga background, and explains how yoga can positively affect your life.

thumbnail_tlc-tour-host-jpgThe book is divided into 4 sections, Yoga, Ancient and Modern, The Body, The Mind, and The Spirit. Included in the first part of the book is a brief history of yoga and yoga philosophy. She goes into great detail about an 8-limbed yoga path. It “guides yogis toward inner and outer peace through a series of simple practices and directions.” She explains the 8 things, and also how to incoprotate these things in every day life – making yoga more accessible. She also makes a connection (through yoga practice, tradition, and teaching) between happiness and these 8 things, not just exclusively through yoga practice.

I feel like I’ve always known (or at least known for a while) how great yoga is. It has a myriad of benefits, but it depends on how you practice and live your life. There is a physical and a spiritual part to yoga, which are connected. Both the physical and spiritual element are well described in the book.  She also talks about meditation, and describes how it can be beneficial in controlling in emotions and moods. If, as she describes, the ultimate goal of yoga is enlightenment (or sanadhi), meditation can deepen that experience.  It could lead to being fully awakened. There is also a guide on how to meditate, and how to find your own practice and style. This is something perhaps we all could use, and seems important in disconnecting. It reminds me so much of “mindfulness” which has become a popular topic.

The name of the book is also the name of a class she teaches in Boston. I would love to take this class, but the book was definitely not my thing. Her ideals about spiritual pursuits, like yoga, remind me of “me time”, if it benefits us, it benefits those around us.  And I totally get that.  It’s something I feel I should be more interested in, but I feel like many other women, I just don’t have time.  She reminds us that we should make time – and I just might.  I first about this book on NPR, when Pacheco was interviewed on On Point.  She spoke passionately about yoga as a apart of a healthy lifestyle.  I don’t think I’ll be doing a handstand any time soon (or maybe ever), but I know I should at least incorporate even 5 minutes of yoga or meditation into my daily routine.

New Fiction Friday: Dead to the Last Drop

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Claire Cosi. I love the coffeehouse mystery series, written by Cleo Coyle, but I haven’t read one of the books in a while.  Dead To the Last Drop is the latest book in the series, book number 15, 51g4npwdm4l-_sx308_bo1204203200_and it takes Claire from the coffehouse’s homebase in NYC to DC. There, they have opened a restaurant/jazz club/coffee bar that has become one of the city’s hottest spots.  Her long-time love interest Mike comes along time, on special assignment from the NYPC to the State Department.

Also making appearances in the story are the usual cast of characters – her ex-husband who comes to town to help out with a special event at the restaurant, her ex-mother in law, boss, and owner of the coffeehouse, who has arranged for Claire to “house sit” a gorgeous old victorian mansion while she’s in the city, and her daughter, who comes to visit from Paris, having landed a new job there in a restaurant. This new DC restaurant quickly becomes IMG_0523the talk of the town, and like many of the city’s hot spots, they frequently serve some of the most prominent leaders in government. This is how Claire is introduced to the president’s daughter.

The president’s only daughter, Abby, is a college student and aspiring jazz musician. Her parents have a much different plan for her, however, so when she shows up at the Jazz Space (the name of the club on the 2nd floor of the restaurant) she doesn’t want to be recognized. She plays with the house band, and when news gets out of her appearance at the club her secret is out and the Jazz Space becomes more popular than ever.  While playing a few shows at the club Abby is kidnapped, which turns into an international incident. Enter Claire: barista, restaurateur, and amateur detective.

In finding Abby, secrets about the first family are revealed. Secrets they would never want exposed. This bit of Washington politics and culture is so great in the story, and so easy to believe. Who knows what the first family could be hiding?  I feel like I may not even want to know.  I have really enjoyed this series, and this change of venue keeps the series fresh.  It is hinted at the end of the book about Claire’s return to NYC.  Who knows what will happen when she gets back home?  In the meantime, until the next book comes out, Coyle has a newsletter and blog devoted to Claire Cosi, the coffeehouse, and some of her best recipes.

First Day of Kindergarten

61huh01wfsl-_sy495_bo1204203200_We knew this day was coming.  Nothing could have prepared us for this day.  Much like every other milestone in our daughter’s life, this one was exciting and bittersweet at the same time.  She’s not our little baby girl anymore. Kindergarten is such a big step, and we are all excited.  This summer I’ve tried to make sure we were enjoying our last days together.  She’s going to stay at the school where she went to preschool, so the transition won’t be too hard.  However, we’ve been reading quite a few books this summer in preparation of this big step!  These are some of our favorites:

The Night Before Kindergarten – Natasha Wing, Julie Durrell

Countdown to Kindergarten – Harry Bliss  This one is her favorite on the list.  Over the 51tqciytkrl-_sx386_bo1204203200_summer we read it so many times, each time I assured her it was ok if she didn’t know how to tie her shoes when the first day of school came around.

Kindergarten, Here I Come!D.J. Steinberg, Mark Chambers

The Twelve Days of Kindergarten – Deborah Lee Rose

Planet Kindergarten – Sue Ganz-Schmitt, Shane Prigmore

Kindergarten Diary – Antoinette Portis

Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten51zpt5rmggl-_sy451_bo1204203200_Marc Brown

The Berenstain Bears Go To School – Stan and Jan Berenstain

These books helped ease the transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  She was actually more concerned about who was going to be in her class than anything else.  Because she’s going to the same school that she went to last year, she’s just moving across the hall, and there are a few familiar faces in this new class.  She made it through the first day, and I made it too without any tears.  If you have a little one starting kindergarten this year, or even next year, these books are perfect!