Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: All the Bright Places

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” 
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publication Date: 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Mental Illness
Goodreads Rating: 4.21 Stars
My Rating: 4 Stars

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

1. All of the feels, all of the time. This book was so good y'all. I haven't read true YA in MONTHS (which, holy moly for me...), and this was a great jumping point back into it. It was poignant, it was real, it was... It was so beautifully written, as you can see by the quotes down there.

2. But mental illness, y'all. This biggest downside of this story was the refusal to acknowledge the pretty serious mental illnesses going on here. Finch is very obviously bipolar. He "goes asleep" for weeks on end, then wakes up and pushes his adrenaline to the point of killing himself. There's no median for him. Yet, his family just accepts this as normal behavior, even when he goes missing for days on end. Maybe Niven was trying to make a point about mental illness? It was truly the most frustrating thing about this novel.

3. Just not so sure about the ending. And I really, really don't want to get spoilery here, but... I was with this book. I was so, so into it. I read it in one day. But the ending just.. It just wasn't right. It was not supposed to end that way. And I'd hate to ruin it for y'all, but if you want to stop at the end of the second section, you will save yourself heartache and frustration.

This book is not a light read, but it is beautifully written and makes you feel ALL OF THE FEELS.

“We are all alone, trapped in these bodies and our own minds, and whatever company we have in this life is only fleeting and superficial.” 

“When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?” 

“It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

“The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” 

“I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.” 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: Lost Lake

“She understood that the hardest times in life to go through were when you were transitioning from one version of yourself to another.” 
- Sarah Addison Allen, Lost Lake

Book Title: Lost Lake
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publication Date: 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Chick Lit
Goodreads Rating: 3.85 Stars
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life?

Sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. They're right where you left them, waiting for you to find them again. 

1. Sarah Addison Allen and her whimsy. I've read quite a few of Allen's novels, and I love their uniqueness. I think someone on Goodreads described it as "Magical Realism". She takes normal, everyday occurrences and makes them just a bit more special by adding some sparkle and magic dust. This novel, out of all the ones I've read, has the least of it, but the lake provided some magic in itself, so I wasn't missing it.

2. The heartache and trauma felt real. These characters struggle. They see a lot of loved ones die, or run away, or struggle with very real problems. Allen didn't diminish this sadness and heartache, but rather embraced it in it's own way, and let the characters grieve and grow.

3. What a summer book. I'm so glad I picked this up in the middle of July instead of the middle of December. A good summer read has a way of transporting you when you are stuck in the house with the heat and humidity, and a good summer read takes advantage of that feeling that summer gives where everything is possible. This book was a good summer read.

As my only light read of the summer, I thoroughly enjoyed this whimsical novel, and I thought it was a great summer read.

“After you finish a book, the story still goes on in your mind. You can never change the beginning. But you can always change the end.” 

“When your cup is empty, you do not mourn what is gone. Because if you do, you will miss the opportunity to fill it again.” 

“If we measured life in the things that almost happened, we wouldn’t get anywhere.” 

“You can't change where you came from, but you can change where you go from here.” 

“But relying on one person for your every need is so dangerous. One set of hands isn't enough to keep you from falling.” 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Summer of Classics

This summer, there hasn't been a whole lot of reading getting done. I know exactly why.


I'm falling prey to it, just like my students. All summer long, I could have been reading glorious contemporary fiction that sucks me in. Instead, I've been feeling guilty about not completing my summer reading. I didn't want to read something fun, because I knew I should be reading Faulkner and Salinger. I didn't want to read Faulkner and Salinger because.. well, for one, I despise Holden Caulfield.

What has that left me with? Not much of anything.

I read The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams last week, and finished it so quickly. Hopefully, As I Lay Dying and The Catcher in the Rye go just as quickly because, y'all, school is right around the corner, and these summer reading tests are the first thing on the agenda.

Plus, it's my turn for book club, and I am DYING to read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Keep me in your prayers. I will need it in the next few weeks.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Spring Wrap-Up

Oops.. I might have been slacking on the blogging, but I really miss these wrap-up posts. They are a way for me to keep my life organized, and help me look back on my year. (Also, it helps me remember all of the books I read, which, alas, hasn't been many lately.)

Spring in One Word: Work

My Favorite Memories in April, May, and June 2015:
  • Celebrating turning 26 with my sister-in-law at her bachelorette party
  • Tax season finishing
  • Having too much fun at Festival Internationale
  • Baby Caddox being born!
  • Getting the pup fixed
  • Spending the weekend in the hospital with mom and dad
  • Wrapping up the school year
  • Performing in a lip sync battle at school against the students (Shake It Off, and we didn't win... Whomp whomp)
  • My little brother getting MARRIED
  • One week in the dorms at LSU for cheer camp
  • Putting a deposit in on our wedding venue!
  • One week feeling inspired at the Ernest J. Gaines Teaching Institute
  • One week in Austin for iPadpalooza learning so much! (Can you tell June was a busy one?) 
Books I Read this Spring: 
Articles from Around the Web:

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in July:
  • Lots of babysitting and professional development time
  • Setting up my classroom and preparing my lessons for August
  • Soaking up the last bit of summer that I can get (including two weekend trips to see far away friends!)
Favorite Quote from a Book I Read this Month:

“They had chosen to make the leap and, having leapt, were delighted to find that the world was even more beautiful than they’d hoped.” 
― Emma StraubThe Vacationers

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Summer TBR

Whew! Came back to TTT just in time for a kick in the pants about the fact that 1) IT IS SUMMER, 2) I have all the free time, and 3) Remember how much I love reading?

While some of these novels are definitely for work, not play, I think I should get through all of them this summer! Aside from the Professional Development, and the lesson planning, and the wedding planning, and, oh, binge-watching Grey's Anatomy, I should be able to find time to read 10 books, right?

Here's to hoping the slump is over.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ernest Gaines and Southern Literature

So sorry guys. It looks like I fell off the map a bit. Life is busy and really hard sometimes, but I'm finally seeing the light (and feeling more inspired than ever)!

I'm currently spending the week at my alma mater, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, studying at the Ernest J. Gaines Center for the 2nd annual Ernest J. Gaines Teaching Institute. Ten teachers from all over the south were chosen to come together this week and talk about how to better incorporate Ernest Gaines's literature into our curriculums.

Most of the teachers in the Institute are college professors of Southern Literature or African American Literature. Needless to say, I'm a bit out of my league in this room, but I'm learning SO MUCH. It's like a crash course in teaching novels in an effective way. Plus, I'm feeling so inspired by our book discussions, and it's only the second day.

In preparation for this week, I read four of Ernest Gaines's novels. (In fact, those are the only books I've read in the last two months. Sigh.)  These novels are so interesting to me, partly because I'm from rural Louisiana, so I can totally connect to the setting, but also because these novels tell a story that the history books skip--Jim Crow Louisiana from the African American point of view.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1997
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 3 Stars

From the Publisher:
A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed; the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, who left his hometown for the university, has returned to the plantation school to teach. As he struggles with his decision whether to stay or escape to another state, his aunt and Jefferson's godmother persuade him to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his learning and his pride to Jefferson before his death. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.

Ernest J. Gaines brings to this novel the same rich sense of place, the same deep understanding of the human psyche, and the same compassion for a people and their struggle that have informed his previous, highly praised works of fiction.

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1992
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

From the Publisher:
Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1982
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

From the Publisher:
This is a novel in the guise of the tape-recorded recollections of a black woman who has lived 110 years, who has been both a slave and a witness to the black militancy of the 1960's. In this woman Ernest Gaines has created a legendary figure, a woman equipped to stand beside William Faulkner's Dilsey in The Sound And The Fury. Miss Jane Pittman, like Dilsey, has 'endured,' has seen almost everything and foretold the  rest. Gaines' novel brings to mind other  great works The Odyssey for the way  his heroine's travels manage to summarize the American history of her race, and Huckleberry  Finn for the clarity of her voice, for her rare capacity to sort through the mess of years and things to find the one true story in it all.

Bloodline: Five Stories by Ernest J. Gaines

Publication Year: 1997
Genre: Adult Fiction, Southern Lit, Short Stories
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

From the Publisher:
In these five stories, Gaines returns to the cane fields, sharecroppers' shacks, and decaying plantation houses of Louisiana, the terrain of his great novels A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying. As rendered by Gaines, this country becomes as familiar, and as haunted by cruelty, suffering, and courage, as Ralph Ellison's Harlem or Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Exciting Opportunities Abound

Beginning in August, I will be using my MBA to teach college-level Economics classes to juniors and seniors in high school. I will also be using my education degree to teach English to some unsuspecting tenth graders.

This week, I received an email saying I had been chosen for a very special professional development opportunity. My Alma Mater, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, hosts a teaching institute every year, where ten teachers are selected to work with author Ernest Gaines and curriculum specialists to plan lessons for high school english classes that center around Gaines's novels. Gaines has many awards to his name, including recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's Genius Grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His novels are central to Louisiana culture, but are award winning and critically acclaimed. (Plus, almost every film/TV adaptation of his novels have won Emmys. NBD.)

I get the opportunity to work closely with this author and other English teachers from the area to develop a curriculum that incorporates these novels into student lives. I'm so excited! It also means that between now and June 8th, I need to read four novels by Ernest Gaines.

Then (because I'm crazy) I signed up for a 10-week course through Coursera, which is an organization that partners with many top-notch universities to provide free access to classes on a variety of subjects. I'll be taking a 10-week course on Greek and Roman mythology through the University of Pennsylvania. We will be reading some of the epics, like the Odyssey, Oedipus the King, and Metamorphoses. That course starts at the end of April and runs until July.

For those of you keeping count, that's a whole lot of reading for academic/professional purposes, and not a whole lot of fun reading. (I'll be having fun... I just don't know if you want me reviewing the Iliad on this blog!)

Jeromy made fun of me last night, saying that somehow, I always manage to land myself back in college, no matter how hard I try to graduate.

What can I say? I love being a student.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What a Slump.

Some of you may have noticed (at least the 15 people that still visit this blog might have noticed) that I've been in a slump. Not a life slump, per se, but a reading and blogging slump. I haven't read a book since our book club book back in March, even though I have 10 checked out from the library, 5 borrowed from other teachers, and a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Why do we get in slumps?

Honestly, it happens to me for a variety of reasons. My house is dirty. There are new things on Netflix. Life is busy. I have a million other things I SHOULD be doing.

But last week, I had the whole week off, and still didn't pick up one book. (I did, however, eat a lot of birthday cake and jelly beans.) I'm dying to get out of this slump, but when I look at the books on my shelf (books I was previously dying to read), nothing catches my attention.

I've been in a reading slump in that I haven't read anything since March, but I also haven't really found a book I've loved in a few months. I started my year off so strong with I'll Give You the Sun and the All Souls' Trilogy, but alas, I've hit an roadblock.

What am I going to do about it?

I have a few options.

  1. Read a best seller. At least I have concrete proof that The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is good. Or at least not bad. Plus, it's our book club book this month, so I kinda have to read it before April 27th.
  2. Reread a favorite. Both my mother and cousin are rereading the Harry Potter series, and I'm quite jealous. It's always so hard to reread books as a blogger, because I want to be reading books that I can review, but hell, I need to get out of this book funk and Harry never steers me wrong.
  3. Latch onto a series. Normally, if the first book in a series is awesome, I'm dying to get my hands on the next few. The few last series that I attempted have been busts, but I'm going to get down to researching to find a new series I might love.
So give me some recommendations, folks. I need some good love stories, some suspense, some nitty gritty characters that I can fall in love with. Do you have any suggestions?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

It's so nice when my birthday falls in the middle of Spring Break. As an April birthday, there's always a good chance I'll be off of school and work for my day. Luckily, this week, my birthday falls on Friday, and I get to spend the weekend at my future sister-in-law's bachelorette party!

I've spent the whole week catching up on errands, spring cleaning, and oh, beginning to plan my wedding. We have been engaged for 10 months now (holy cow.), but we are finally ready to begin planning, and I must say, it has already caused me stress and annoyance. I'll save that rant for another day.

Luckily, my wonderful fiancé gave me my present early, and it is 108 classes at a new yoga place that opened in town! (108 classes.. that's commitment.) He figured I would need a way to relieve the wedding planning stress.

He calls me a birthday diva, partially because I am. I'm such a sucker for fresh starts, and there's something so symbolic about birthdays. Cross off another year of being on this earth, and starting a new year fresh with possibilities. I love to look back and see where I've been and how far I've come in the last year, as well as look forward to all of the new possibilities that the new year will bring.

Being 25

Twenty-five was a tumultuous year for me, to say the least. I started the year moving Jeromy back home and getting engaged in the same week. It was wonderful and happy and amazing. I passed the hardest class of the MBA program with a B (should have been an A, I swear). I left my Graduate Assistant position to search for my Career. I had an amazing vacation in Colorado with my favorite boy, and I realized I love hiking and ballooning and being in not-so-humid weather.

But then I started my last semester of the MBA program and spent three months unemployed. It was the hardest three months of my life. It was the first time since eighth grade that I wasn't making any money of my own, and I really struggled coming to terms with relying on Jeromy and my family, as well as trying to find a job that was the right fit for me.

Thankfully, in October, I got a text message from a sorority sister that eventually led to me making the decision to go back to teaching. That text message, and the subsequent visit to the school, made me realize that teaching has been in my heart since I was a child, and all I needed was the right environment to bring me back to that love.

After the visit to that school, I began substitute teaching to make it until August when I could start teaching at my school full time. I found a long-term substitute position at a school with teacher friends, and I spent 3 (long) months there. The day after I realized that the long-term position was ending, I received an email from an administrator at my school offering me a full time position (with benefits!) that would carry me through to teaching full time in August.

It's amazing and funny and miraculous the way the world works sometimes. Just when I would give up hope or really start worrying, something would happen that would remind me that the universe has bigger plans for me than I had for myself.

Turning 26

I finally feel stable. I feel like I'm on the right path.. my feet are walking the path I hope to be walking for a while. I know (of course I know) life has a way of throwing us off track right when we get comfortable, but for now, I feel like I have a plan, and that, for the first time, having a plan doesn't scare me.

Twenty-six will be a year of rejuvenation. Building up my savings while cutting my debt. Saving (and spending) for our wedding. Hopefully house hunting. Definitely finding a balance through my 108 yoga classes. Spending lots more time cooking and playing with my pets and soaking up the summer and learning everything I can to thrive in my career.

I've gushed a lot, but honestly, I have never been more excited, more ready, more thrilled to be getting older and growing more secure. 26 will be a good year, folks.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Recently Added to My TBR

What an easy TTT (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, as usual). I went onto Goodreads and chose my most recent additions to my To Read list... Granted, my TBR has 187 books on it, so this is just a smalllllll sampling of the many books I'm itching to read.

March Wrap-Up

Wait. March is already over? I've been so busy this month with social (fun!) obligations and school stuff that I completely missed the month flying by!

March in One Word: Spring!

My Favorite Memories in March 2015:
  • Celebrating my favorite one year old's birthday
  • Attending the Bridal Expo with some of my favorite women ever
  • Winning a free bridal session!
  • Having cheerleading tryouts and officially becoming sponsor for next year
  • Beginning to write a textbook!
  • Showering Eric and Nicole with love and gifts and champagne
  • Boiled crawfish and the dog park in the Spring weather
  • A great lunch and movie with the family
  • Celebrating the end of March, a best friend's birthday, and my early birthday with great friends
Books I Read this Month: 
  • The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • The Mercy of Thin Air by Donlyn Domingue
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
Articles from Around the Web:
    3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in April:
    • My 26th birthday!
    • My future sister-in-law's bachelorette party
    Favorite Quote from a Book I Read this Month:

    “I don't know when we'll see each other again or what the world will be like when we do. We may both have seen many horrible things. But I will think of you every time I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world.” 
    ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha