Thursday, April 17, 2014

the girl who came home.

Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated by the Titanic. The photos that have come out are haunting; a shoe or a doll on the ocean's floor; abandoned in a quiet blue abyss. When the movie came out, all I wanted was the sinking. I wasn't interested in the romance; Leonardo diCaprio or not. But what I was missing, was the human side of this tragedy. It had happened so far before I was born, that it was a relic of history, the ship and the story. Well, author Hazel Gaynor has finally brought the humanity of the story to my obsession in The Girl Who Came Home.

The story mostly follows Maggie, who, along with thirteen others are leaving their Irish home in Ballysheen to sail to America on the great, "unsinkable," White Star Line ship, Titanic. The novel opens with all the future passengers atwitter with excitement. We learn Maggie is leaving her love, Seamus, behind, while she goes with her aunt to the States after her mother dies. We are given a view of life in 1912 Ireland, in great description and emotion; clearly a skill of this author.

Soon enough Maggie, her aunt, her friends, and the others travel on to board the ship. Everyone is imbued with excitement and that frisson is felt within Gaynor's writing. We, the reader, are fully aware at what is about to transpire. But I do wish Gaynor wasn't so heavy-handed with making this eventuality so obvious. This novel is based on the fourteen; the "Addergoole 14," but I don't think she needed to keep mentioning "fourteen," as it drew attention to me that the writer was trying to point this out far in the future. They only became the Addergoole 14 upon the tragedy, so using it throughout the narration, to me, stood out too much. Gaynor often used ominous overtones that were anything but subtle. For example, in Maggie's diary, it is written: Some people may want to talk about titanic for the next hundred years... This is a little too prescient for a diary entry.

Also in these pages is Grace, Maggie's granddaughter. We jump through time to the 1980s where Maggie is an old woman and finally tells Grace her story from that night. Grace then is able to rekindle her relationship with her former lover and get a belated kick-start in her journalism career by writing up Maggie's story. Surprising, even to me, was that I became interested in Grace as a character. I didn't expect this and I have to give props to Hazel Gaynor with her ability in characters; she can write 'em!

Sometimes the writing felt very much like there was a writer behind the words (if that makes any sense). As in the above with the mentioning of the fourteen, there were other similar moments: They'll be busy watching MTV nonsense and that silly Rubik's cube thing-and a fancy fax machine... To me, this was Gaynor trying too obviously to place it in the 80s. The end of the novel, I felt, was wrapped up a bit too conveniently (everyone ends up living in Chicago; how easy.) I also wish Maggie's reunion with the one other survivor, Peggy wasn't relegated to such a short span - about a page or two. I wanted so much more there!

But, I kept picking up the book. I kept wanting to read more. To see what would happen, despite knowing some of the outcomes. To add to my years-long fascination with this tragedy. In time, tragedies become pages in history books and monuments to visit. Adding another dimension is important. Crucial to understand that history is made up of lives. I have Hazel Gaynor to thank for bringing the Titanic back to life.

Thank you to HarperCollins, who provided this book in exchange for my honest feedback.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

she glows.

I don't generally write about cookbooks here, but I'm going to talk about two that are recently on my radar. With a nine week old baby, cooking is at a minimum, and so when my neighbor swore by Salad for Dinner, I decided to take it out from the library. GOOD PLAN! I've already made about six salads from this. Beets with blood oranges and marcona almonds. Indian chicken curry salad on spinach. So good! And with the spring season comes better (in my opinion) or at least more options on produce. That means, the options for salads are endless. Not only are they good to lose this baby weight, but they're pretty good for maintaining the energy needed for the wee Baby G. Never have I been so excited for a salad.

Also, apparently now a bestseller, The Oh She Glows Cookbook. I am not a vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian. But a few years ago I needed a kick in the pants to get both active and a healthier diet. Cue blogger Angela Liddon. I found her blog, Oh She Glows and discovered green smoothies (you cannot taste spinach in a smoothie - swear!), frozen banana "ice cream," overnight oats, and so much more, including mock rolos made with dates and a couple variations on the peppermint patty. Her blog has been so influential to me that when her cookbook was released it was a no brainer. I bought it. And one for a friend. Included is her story and lovely photographs. Food photography is really so lovely in itself. And... of course, wonderful recipes. My two favorites that have already made the rounds more than once (and the book has only been out here since early March!) is the lentil walnut loaf and the kale lentil spicy soup. My husband bought oodles of lentils about a year ago (every grocery trip he'd buy more forgetting he had bought them previously) and I'm finally using them up. Liddon is an inspiration and has made alternative food options commonplace in my kitchen. Maple syrup instead of white sugar. Avocado instead of cream (pasta sauce!). Coconut oil, dates, bananas, chia seeds, nut milks...all are staples around here and I choose to go this route. I do gluten. I do dairy. I do meat. But that doesn't mean I don't want to eat healthily. It means that there is room for a vegan cookbook in everyone's kitchen!

Monday, April 7, 2014

the house at the end of hope street.

I received The House at the End of Hope Street for review. I am so fortunate that I get books to read from publishers and authors! I'm honored that my opinion on this humble blog is solicited. It's kind of a dream come true. That said, I am never sure how to approach a book I don't love. That was the case with Menna van Praag's novel. What I can say is that I probably didn't love this book because I've recently come off a two year writing program. That means my ears prick up with certain things, like jumping points of view, and inconsistencies of narration. That does mean that most people wouldn't notice these things and would probably enjoy this whimsical story.

Alba Ashby has recently had to leave her schooling for (we aren't entirely sure at the beginning) questionable and supposedly disreputable reasons. She happens upon a mysterious house (on Hope Street, surprisingly enough). She's at the end of her tether (although I didn't really buy it). Peggy, the caretaker of the house welcomes Alba in, as she has done with many other women who've lost hope (see that there? In the title? They've all lost hope and it's on hope street.) That actually is the kind of thing I didn't care for. It all was a little contrived. Cutesy, even.

Alba joins Greer, Carmen, and Peggy, along with ghost Stella and ghost cat Mog in the house. The only caveat Peggy gives them is that they can only live there for 99 days. Past famed residents include Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf and Agatha Christie. All of whom live in photos on the wall. Literally, the photos are alive (think Harry Potter).

As Alba learns to weave her way back, and Peggy sees in her a successor caretaker of the magical house, we are indulged with references to literary works and great women of history. I appreciate that, but I've seen "bookish books" before. van Praag does do it in a new way. One that will entertain many readers, I'm sure. It's an uplifting book. Hopeful, if you will. It's a quirky and cute read. But, in my opinion, I wanted more.

I had a hard time with the points of view. You are jumping from one head to another in the narration. First you are hearing Alba's thoughts, then in the next sentence, you're in Carmen's head. Also, just as you're getting into one scene, like when Alba is called back to her family home upon her mother's death; you are tossed back to a scene with Greer back at the house. I'd be fine with this if it was done in separate chapters or with a bit more finesse, but it left me unable to get invested and feeling like I was being jerked all over the place. I thought the characters could actually use a little more zest too. Maybe they were too one-dimensional? I can't quite put my finger on it. Good idea, just not as well executed as it could be, in my opinion. I appreciated getting to read this and I think it's a good enough novel. I just think it could have used more oomph - for a story with such high hopes.

Thanks to Penguin for the book, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

waiting for birdy.

Yes, "birdy" is a code name for a baby. I read Catherine Newman's Waiting for Birdy (full title: Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family). I read it while laying on the couch for endless hours breastfeeding my new baby. . . who, by the way, is already a reader.

I wouldn't have thought so, but now that I am a new mom, I am loving people's accounts of new momdom. This book was laugh out-loud hilarious. Probably because I could relate to so much of it. To be honest, being a parent to a newborn is maybe God's joke on us all. It's difficult, exhausting, your lady parts are killing you, and then this practically feral animal smiles up at you and all of a sudden all the spit-up, depression, and all-nigh wail fests are okay?

I've always wanted to be a mother and I'm very excited to be G's mother. But this? This was hard-ass work. Every day I vacillate between wanting to never do it again and sucking it up to give G a sibling (in a few years!) As she smiles more and "talks" and interacts more, it is getting better. But I wouldn't call this phase "magical" or "the most amazing thing ever." This book talks to all the good and the somewhat bad. Newman doesn't go into post-partum depression or anything terribly serious, but it's just enough of both sides, that I could relate and kept reading snatches out loud to my husband.

If you're a new mom or a seasoned mother, I'd totally recommend this memoir.

Do you have a favorite parenting book?

PS - Written while trying desperately to put a fidgety and fussy baby to sleep by bouncing it just shy of "catapult."

Monday, March 31, 2014


Here's what we've been up to lately:
The mystery of the baby reader.

Are you familiar with this line of board baby books? Baby G has been into sounds lately. Making her own coos and repeating sounds we make. The Sherlock Holmes book focuses on sounds, so it's perfect for her right now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

next up.

Inspired by my pals over at Literary Hoarders and by the awesome stack of books by my bedside, I'm letting you in on my exciting next new reads. Sure, with a five-week-old baby, it's a little more slow-going than usual. But, I find that in my (little) free time, in addition to cleaning counters (I love to do this. . . no idea why), I want to commit to my reading and writing. In fact, while breastfeeding, reading is actually the ideal activity. My husband is already reading Underworld to the baby in his free time. Do you think baby G will like the following?

I mean, REALLY!!! How great a stash?!? What are you reading next?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

chocolate milk.


You need it. Best chocolate milk ever. Best beverage EVER. Found at my local Metropolitan Market, but try to find it near you. It's AMAZING.

That is all.