Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Review: The Perfect Girl

“I believe that if you are lucky enough to have a child, then you should love them, whether or not society labels them as flawed, whether or not you label them as flawed.” 
― Gilly Macmillan, The Perfect Girl

Book Title: The Perfect Girl
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Publication Date: 2016
Genres: Fiction, Murder Mystery
Goodreads Rating: 3.69 Stars
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

To everyone who knows her now, Zoe Maisey - child genius, musical sensation - is perfect. Yet several years ago, Zoe caused the death of three teenagers. She served her time. And now she's free.

Her story begins with her giving the performance of her life. 

By midnight, her mother is dead. 

The Perfect Girl is an intricate exploration into the mind of a teenager burdened by brilliance. It's a story about the wrongs in our past not letting go and how hard we must fight for second chances.

1. Not exactly how I wanted to start 2017. This book was good... But not great. And as the first book I read of the new year, I wanted it to be GREAT. There were too many points of view (which I don't say often because I love multiple POVs), and the story was a bit muddled from the weird skips through linear time, which works for some novels but...

2. It's no Gillian Flynn. This book LOOKED like it should be Gone Girl. The cover is so similar, and the title is The Perfect Girl. But it was not Gone Girl. It lacked the suspense and BIG TWIST that that book had, and the characters were meh. I liked Zoe and Lucas, but I wasn't super attached to them. There wasn't much character development, and there were certainly unnecessary plot lines that just didn't need to be there.

3. That being said... It was a pretty decent book. If you're looking for something interesting and not all too intense, this is a good book to pick up. I kept picking it up when I had other things I could have been doing, which is saying something.

While not the best murder mystery ever, this was a novel that kept me guessing and held me in suspense while drawing out the storyline.

“And in spite of everything, a tiny part of me glows, because I feel a little bit happy that we're going to do this together, that we're going to do anything together in fact, because that hasn't really happened for a very long time."

"Piano playing is like an addiction for me. It’s a path I have to walk down, water I have to drink, food I must consume, air I need to breathe. It’s the only thing that can take my head somewhere safe and everybody tells me its going to give me a ‘bright future’"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Recovery Mode

Typically, when that week between Christmas and New Year's Eve rolls around, I get really nostalgic for the year that has past. I contemplate the things that have happened in the last year to get me to the point I'm at now, and I wonder about what the future holds.

But frankly, I'm so over 2016. I don't want to think about it, ruminate on it, consider all of the ways it has changed me, shaped me, molded me. Because, frankly, it kind of sucked.

Yes, I got married to a wonderful man in 2016. On Thanksgiving, I wrote a post about all of the things I was thankful for in 2016, and there are a few of them. But there were also a lot of really sucky things that happened that I'd rather just move on from... which is a tad impossible when you're still living in a construction zone.

So moving forward to 2017...

I'll be honest. I am terrible at New Year's Resolutions. (I mean... everyone is, right? It's kind of a cliché at this point for me to say I'm terrible at them, but here I am... saying I'm terrible at them.) I get these big lofty dreams in my head: I'm going to exercise more! I'm going to eat right! I'm going to finally commit to doing all the DIY projects on my Pinterest board! And then January hits me full force -- we go back to school, I fall back into my routine of not doing anything but binge watching Netflix, eating popcorn, and reading books. Whomp whomp.

So, in 2014, I decided to ditch the conventional New Year's Resolution that I could never quite stick to and, instead, chose a word to define my year. In 2014, my word was pursue. In 2015, my word was persist. In 2016, I was obviously so overwhelmed with cheerleading and my first year of teaching that I just didn't choose a word. Looking back, 2016 should probably have been plan (a wedding, a rebuilding of your home, ahead for the future... etc.)

After snooping around on the Internet (and getting lost amid a few too many cooking tutorial videos and cats wearing hats), I've decided that my word of the year will be...


2016 was a harrowing year, and I did a pretty terrible job at self-care. I avoided confronting my problems and facing my emotions, and I took it out on my poor husband one too many times.

So, for the first part of the year, I will focus on recovering from the past year. On OneWord365's blog, they write, "recovery means recognizing the problem for what it is and being willing to change your life," and that really spoke to me. I shouldn't only be realizing that I have problems, but I should be willing to do something to overcome those issues.

So, I have resolved to take better care of myself. Not so much your typical work out-eat healthy-cut junk food (because, let's be honest about who I am as a person...), but generally be more focused on my mental health. Write more. See a therapist. Stay organized (for my sanity). Keep on top of my schoolwork. Throw myself back into my students and let them heal me. Go run with my puppy. Take time for myself. Say no to things. Say yes to things I might normally say no to. Be a better friend to my friends.

I need to get back to where I was in the past and where I should be going in the future. Winter is always challenging for me, and living in a house that is still under construction is hard on my psyche. Accepting that things are difficult and vowing to help myself adapt to these changes will help in my recovery process.

Hopefully, come June 2017, I'll be revising this word to something more forceful and optimistic, but for now, this word felt right.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful in 2016

Today is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Of course, I've always watched the Macy's parade, especially loving the Broadway performances and the Radio City Rockettes. And then there's the food. Because allllll the food.

But one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the fact that it forces us to slow down and really think about what we are grateful for. In this busy adult life that I've made for myself, it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day and forget to take a step back and remind myself what's great about my life. Thanksgiving is the perfect reminder we need, going in to the holiday season.

2016 was a hard year.

  • In May, my grandmother passed away. I lost my fiery, one-of-a-kind, independent grandmother. She was 93 years old, but her body failed long before her mind did, and that just doesn't seem fair. I still think about her often, and my sadness from losing her hasn't ebbed. 
  • In August, our house flooded. Being homeless is HARD. Being homeless one month before your wedding is REALLY HARD. Being homeless in the first two months of marriage is REALLY REALLY HARD. We've learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship through this, but that knowledge hasn't made it any easier.
  • In November, Donald Trump was elected President. No matter what side of the aisle you look at, most people agree that this isn't best case scenario. It's been tough seeing all the hate and mistrust that has come from this election cycle.

BUT. Despite all of the hardships and struggle that we have endured this year, there have been some bright spots. And today, I'm choosing to focus on the good that has come of this year (a recent change of heart, since Jeromy called me a "mopey zoo lion" yesterday...)

2016 is the year we were married, and for that, I will never be able to completely write off this year. Our wedding was perfect. It was incredible. I've written about it before, but its importance in our lives at that moment can't be overstated. For one day, we weren't homeless or lost or alone. We were surrounded by all of the people who lift us up and hope for the best for us. We laughed and pretended that there was no other thing going on in the world outside of us and this dance party. The honeymoon week that followed was relaxing and restorative and precisely what we needed to make it through the next few months (plus, all the Maine lobster). When I'm struggling to live with our reality, I look back on those pictures. That day was an awesome day, and I know we will have many more awesome days ahead of us.

This weekend, we are moving back into our home. Well, not really our home. A new, upgraded, remodeled home. We will be back in our bed, reunited with our kitten, and Arthur will have his doggie door back. I've been hesitant to really get excited about it, because it still doesn't feel real. I can't be more thankful for everyone who has gotten us to this point, from the coworkers and students who literally tore our home apart, to our generous family who are helping us rebuild, to my student's dad who is quite literally putting our home back together. We are truly surrounded by an amazing community.

I am most grateful to Nick and Sam, our friends who let us in their home for the last three and a half months. Taking in two adults and a rambunctious pup definitely added a bit more chaos to their lives, but they have been so generous in their acceptance of us. It's been a nice reality check living with a 3-4-5-6 month old (because we have been living with them for over half of Aiden's life now), and I can credit Sam for helping me meet my Goodreads goal this year (she's basically my book soulmate). We are ready to be back in our home, but we will definitely miss our roommates.

Sometimes, when life is crazy, it's easy to forget all of the good things in it. Sometimes, the only way to remember is to make a list to remind yourself. I'm grateful that Thanksgiving comes around and reminds us to slow down and remember to be grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

“For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.” 
― Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

Book Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publication Date: 2010
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance
Goodreads Rating: 4.1 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

Can Anna find love in the City of Light?

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.

But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's waiting for?

1. Light and airy. After reading Big Little Lies and A Monster Calls, I needed a pick me up. Those books were amazing, but so heavy, and I knew I needed something lighter to read. This book was PERFECT for that. It had enough depth to keep me interested, but it was a love story and there's a comfort in (hopefully) knowing how it ends.

2. Nuanced characters. In YA chick lit, it's easy for authors to fall into stereotyping teenagers, but Perkins doesn't do that. She does a great job of slowly revealing the pasts of the characters and allows the reader to fall in love with each character slowly and intentionally. (Sidenote: Anna and the French Kiss is much better at this than the two sequels... but that didn't stop me from loving the sequels as well). Speaking of..

3. THERE ARE SEQUELS. The best part about this book? It's such a quick read, but there are two more books (so far) in the series. The other two books follow new characters, but our favorite characters make some cameos (Anna is a co-worker of Lola in Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla is a student at the same school Anna attended in Paris in Isla and the Happily Ever After). I've read both of these books between Sunday (when I finished Anna) and publishing this post (3 days later). And now I want more from Stephanie Perkins.

Perkins does a great job creating humor and interest in this little love story.

“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” 

“I wish friends held hands more often, like the children I see on the streets sometimes. I'm not sure why we have to grow up and get embarrassed about it.” 

“I mean, really. Who sends their kid to boarding school? It's so Hogwarts. Only mine doesn't have cute boy wizards or magic candy or flying lessons.” 

“How many times can our emotions be tied to someone else's - be pulled and stretched and twisted - before they snap? Before they can never be mended again?” 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: A Monster Calls

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 
― Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Book Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Publication Date: 2011
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating: 4.33 Stars
My Rating: 5 Stars

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

1. Short, but in a good way. I read this book in 1 hour and 45 minutes. When I say "read", I mean devoured. Maybe it helped that I was home alone, sitting outside in the sunshine with the dog on my lap, but I didn't once have the urge to put this book down. It was exactly as long as it needed to be, and I'm still reeling a bit from reading it so quickly.

2. Poignant. This book would be the dictionary definition of the poignant. Conor, who is thirteen years old, has a secret guilt that he is hiding from everyone. Ironically, the first person to see through his façade is his tormentor, Harry. We don't know what Conor's secret guilt is until the end of the book, but by then, I felt so much compassion and pain for him, I would have forgiven anything he confessed.

3. So Personal. This book isn't amazing because it has a great plot or character development. It's amazing because of the way it forces the reader to look inside of themselves. We are continuously brought back to Conor's nightmare and wondering what it is. Throughout the novel, I found myself going back over and over to try to figure out what my "monster" would be. What is my secret sin? What is the guilt I am (needlessly) carrying with me? 24 hours later and I'm still continuously going back to these thoughts, which is the sign of a great book.

Ness does a great job of slowly revealing Conor's "monster", and, in the meantime, causing the reader to question their own demons.

“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” 

“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” 

“Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?"