Reading

The House at the End of Hope Street: A Review

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I love books that have a little bit of that magical flair. More than a little bit and I feel as if I’ve hit the reading jack pot. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag is full of magic, from a house that seems to pop up just as you need it, ghosts and portraits that give, sometimes unwanted, advice, and a 99 day chance for a young woman to get her life back on track, this novel keeps the reader enchanted. 

When Alba, an extraordinary genius with unbelievable sight, experiences the worst event of her life (she’s not exaggerating either), she wanders the streets with no idea what should happen next. That’s when the house pops up out of nowhere, big and Victorian with vines of wisteria and the smells of calm hovering in the air, and reaches to her like a mother reaches for a hurting child. As you read on, you learn that the house has been rescuing women, especially soon to be famous women like Agatha Christie and Virginia Woolf, for 200 years. 

Alba’s story quickly becomes entwined with the three other women in the house, one hiding from her past, one scared of her future, and the wonderful woman, Peggy, who keeps the house and helps the young women who cross the threshold. One of my favorite parts of this book was the way that the characters stories became so connected. Originally, I was concerned that this was going to be a story of stories, instead of a fluid whole, but Van Praag didn’t disappoint. 

Even though the pages are full of heartbreaking life events, you learn, along with the women experiencing them, that one “must be allowed to feel her grief, must dive headlong into despair, before she can emerge again, her spirit richer and deeper than before” (46). While trying to find herself in all of the madness of her life, Alba is also on the search, rather reluctantly sometimes, for her father, who makes the story even more rich. 

Although I loved the book, the characters, the story, the mysteries that unravel one tiny strand at a time, I didn’t love the number of perspectives that the story was told from. Almost every character gets his or her say, which made me feel like my favorites didn’t get enough time with the spotlight. I also had a hard time, whether because of the different circumstances or perspective, relating with Greer, one of the women living in the house. 

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I think it was exactly the book that I needed to read! Follow the link and get your own copy! You won’t be disappointed. 

 

 

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Day 20: What are your hobbies and why do you like them?

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For people who work only 40 hours per week (and who still gets to do that anyway?), that person will work 30% of his life. Another 30% is spent sleeping. What we do with that other 40% is completely up to us. 

For December Challenge day 20, you get to hear all about mine and Madi’s hobbies, and if you are my student reading this, prepare to see how boring I actually am. 

So my number one hobby is writing. I would like this hobby to eventually become a source of income for myself. Eve if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t matter. One day my children will inherit all of my journals and they can read all about me and whom I was and whom I wanted to be. 

I also count exercise as a hobby, mainly because I really enjoy it. I’m happy that I have met my weight loss goals and how I exercise (running and yoga are my favorites) because it makes me happy. It really isn’t something that I struggle with anymore. 

Remodeling and redecorating the house ranks in the top five because that is something that Nathan and I can do together. We get to spend time together and make our home more beautiful. Right now we’re in the middle of planning a kitchen remodel. 

Reading is another “hobby” but like writing I could never give it up. Ever. I love the feeling of being transported to another place and time, of meeting new people and being inspired. Experience equals wisdom, but reading helps you get ahead of the game. 

So, a few hobbies from me should equal a few hobbies from you! What are your hobbies? 

Day 18: A List of Likes

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Day 18 is a day of favorites, but the problem is that I have a lot of favorites, especially in these categories. For example, if you were to ask me what my favorite animal was, I would ask you, “domestic or wild?”  See, there are a lot of different components of favorites to consider. I will do my best, as I am sure Madi will also, but know that in no way is this list exhaustive, nor will it be true tomorrow. 

Me-Button.pngBook: This will be the hardest. I am an avid reader I read usually four-five books a month, and that is a slow month, during the school year. During summer I don’t know how many books I read because there are so many. Right now, I’m asking myself if I should start with my favorite of all time or choose a classic. I can tell you that one of my favorite themes in literature is “things aren’t always what they seem.” My favorite YA book would be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which is all about the way things appear versus what they actually are. I also loved The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia. I believe in magic because of books like these. Jane Austen inspires me as a woman, and Sarah Addison Allen helps me to keep my belief in magic, even as an adult. John Green and Sarah Dessen help me stay in touch with my inner teenager so that I can more easily relate to my learners. I’m stopping here now, or I won’t have room for the rest of my favorites. 

 

Movies: So, I’m not a huge movie buff. I want to be, but I get al fidgety. It’s weird, but I can sit and read for hours, but try to get me to sit for an extended period of time for anything else and I start to get all antsy in my pantsy. So, I loved The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and I’ve loved both Hobbit movies so far. I loved all the HP movies. My secret, which is about to no longer be a secret, movie guilty pleasure is Legally Blonde. I watch that movie when I need a girl power or motivation. That’s a pretty huge secret, so don’t tell anyone.

Song: Right now, my favorite song is  easily “Begging You Not To Go” by Tired Pony. First of all, the lyrics are beautiful. I can just imagine these two people who are at the cusp of being in love; it’s the time when moments are both shorter and longer, when every word is poetry and love has never felt so close. There is this line, and it took me a while to interpret it. He says, “We’re the last to fall all around us sleeping bodies Drunken satellites in the orbit of our earth,” and I remember this feeling with Nathan. Your surrounded by people but the gravity between you and the person is so strong it seems to disrupt everything else. The satellites look drunk because of the pull between the two of you. This song, in only eight lines, captures so much about love. 

Food: Easy. Chips and Salsa. Love.

Color: Depends on my mood and the weather. In the winter my color is typically black because I’m solar powered and I start feeling a little bit melancholy. In the summer my favorite color is the color of sunflowers.  

Animal: Domestically speaking it would have to be dogs. I mean, look at these two. They are precious. 

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Wild, I don’t know. Wolves are cool. Nathan likes bears, so I think that’s pretty awesome. Owls are cool, too. And Ravens. I like birds for all the things that they can symbolize, but I would never keep one. Otters are cute. Obviously, I don’t know. 

 

There you go. What are your favorites? 

December Blog Challenge Day 1: Ten Facts About Myself

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Today marks the first day of a December blog challenge that I am participating in. That means for the next 31 days, you can expect one post a day from me. If I fall behind, I apologize, but I will try my best not to.

 

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So, for day 1, ten things you may or may not know about me:

1. My office was the first completely decorated room in my house. Our house is just right for us. It has a huge backyard with old trees and even a goat in the neighbor’s yard. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms and the whole place needs updated. When we moved in, everything smelled like smoke, so we had to deep clean, shampoo, and paint everything. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to decorate, but Nathan knew how important the office was to me, so he helped make it happen. We converted the closet to a bookshelf, bought crates to make more bookshelves- I have a lot of books- and found an old library table to use as a desk. It was the first room to be done, and it is still the only complete room in the house.

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2. When I was young and had finally found a passion for reading through Harry Potter, I attended a small private school. I wasn’t supposed to read Harry Potter at school, so I hid Harry in the jacket of another book and read it anyway. It was my first “Banned Book” experience and I think it is one reason that I am so passionate about books now.

3. I have written two novel length works, but I threw out the first one because it was so bad. The characters are still in my head, the story line is still there, but if I ever wanted to revisit that world that I created, I would have to start over. Sometimes starting over is the only option, even though it sucks.

4. I have a weakness for coffee and candles. As I’m writing this, I have a coffee cup full of my new favorite brew from Onyx and a candle burning. For some reason, writing with a candle burning makes me feel closer to all the greats. It’s my version of the football team lovers who do weird things to ensure a win. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, right?

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5. One of my favorite things in the world is running and exercising. There is this weird stigma that comes with being smart that says you can’t be athletic and vice-versa. My goal is to prove that stigma is wrong to my students and eventually to my own children. Society can have all the stigmas that they want, but I can and will be whomever I want to be.

6. As a freshman in college I was a double major in math and English. I ended up dropping math because my brain had a hard time switching between the two subjects. The real truth behind that is I got a B in trigonometry and thought that a B meant that I didn’t know enough to move forward.

7. My perfect, but average, day would go like this:

Wake up early and write while drinking coffee.

Clean house.

Lunch

Workout, attend Yoga or run

Go to the bookstore and buy a new book to read

Read the book and write some more

Cook and eat dinner with Nathan

Read more

Bed.

8. One of the hardest things for me to write are book reviews. For some reason I always feel like I’m not doing the book justice and it takes me forever. I’ve also seen first hand how writing strong reviews has gotten me into contact with some fantastic writers. So, even thought I struggle with them, I keep on writing them to expand my horizons and do things that don’t always come easy to me.

9. Second to my office, my favorite place to be is in a bookstore. I love being surrounded by so many words. It is a feeling that is at once humbling and inspiring. I don’t have super nice clothes or a perfectly decorated house because I spend a significant portion of my budget on new books. My co-facilitator explained books in a way that really clicked for me. He said that in order to gain wisdom, one must have experience. The only substitute for experience is reading books.

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10. I am a total introvert. The only person that I can handle being around all the time is Nathan, mainly because he is perfect. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time alone reading. I played sports and was active at school, so by the time I got home, I was done. Now, I pair the reading and writing with running. Even with as perfect as Nathan is, I still require a significant amount of time by myself. That’s why I get up so early to write; it fulfills two purposes. It is also why I work out right after school. I don’t know how I would make it otherwise.

Best Day Ever. Seriously.

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The Barnes and Noble seems to get more and more crowded with every Sunday afternoon visit. The old man to my left is completing a crossword puzzle, and one lady is walking around in a Hawaiian floor length dress and sweater. I count four laptops including my own, one actual conversation, three sets of headphones, one pastry, four coffee drinks and several waters. I see newspapers, books, magazines, and textbooks. Every one in this room has an agenda, a set of tasks that they need to accomplish.

I have the same kind of list that I should be addressing, but instead I’m writing to you guys. I haven’t written since NaNoWriMo started, and I haven’t even blogged about my first half marathon (my time was 1:57:54, by the way)! Something interesting happened to me today. I got to get up this morning and write 2,000 words. They didn’t come easy; sometimes I had to really struggle, and they weren’t all the right words, but they were words, and they were more than what I had when I started.

Then, I went to mass with Nathan, and like every mass, we discussed the homily on the way home and I was reminded how lucky I am to have such a thoughtful and well-spoken husband, even though he sometimes struggles with listening. (I promise while I was writing that line I was smiling because he really does, and it’s okay because I struggle with the speaking part so most of the time we get each other.)

After mass, I went to my school and worked with my co-facilitator on our next big project. We’re doing Writer’s Workshop and Manifest Destiny, and our learners will hopefully struggle and through the struggle become much better writers.

Book club came next. We sat and talked about The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer that we all loved. We had a real discussion and we talked about our future children reading the same book that we read because it was a book for middle grades. We talked about the role of fairy tales and how important they are. And the best part, we always write a message to each other in the front of the book. I will always have a piece of that meeting with me when I have that book.

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When I came home from book club, Nathan and I cooked dinner and ate together, like we do every night. He watched The Walking Dead and I took a bath and began reading the sequel to our book club choice, The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer. (I’m going to review both of these books, but I think that it will be best if I review them both in the same post.) After my bath, I packed up for tomorrow, got my office ready fro my writing in the morning, and sat down to finish this post.

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This whole day, I’ve been getting updates from learners who are reviewing their books on GoodReads and turning in their homework. Occasionally I will pause and read one or two, and again I’m amazed.

I know my life isn’t perfect; I’m not so much a surrealist that I don’t realize that. But, on days like today, it’s hard not to see the perfection in the little things. I get up and write every morning. Every night before bed I get to read. I teach learners all day long and let me tell you, some of them are going to change the world one day, I have no doubts about that. I get to spend time with my husband and my puppies. I run and exercise and enjoy life. I feel like in this world of chaotic beginnings and endings and middles, I’m paving my way in pebbles, the kind that move with earth so that I don’t stumble like I would on cracked concrete.

What’s Up? A lot. That’s What.

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My life seems to alternate between absolutely perfect and pretty good but I’m dead tired. This week has been a dead tired week, which isn’t always a bad thing- it definitely makes be appreciate those perfect weeks. I’ve been trying to decide what I want to blog about, but I have so much on my plate right now, I feel like a crazy person has temporarily invaded my brain. Those of you who know me well are not allowed to comment on that last line.

So, let’s break my life down into some categories so I can catch you up efficiently. Life equals= running, teaching, writing, reading, professional planning. This isn’t a master list, so I may throw in some curve balls.

Running:

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I have been training for my first half marathon. It has been exhausting and frustrating, but also rewarding. I have pushed my body and my mind farther than I ever thought possible. I remember when I first started running and two miles left me huffing and puffing and having to walk. Last Saturday, I ran ten miles in an hour and a half without rest. My race is this Saturday and I feel like my stomach is made of jello I’m so nervous. I never get nervous with 5ks, but I feel like the extra training time and the fact that running is pretty much the only exercise I have time for makes it a little bit more stressful. I’m sure that after I recover and allow my body time to be good, I’ll update my time!

Teaching:

This area has been hard to find balance in. I’m spending a solid nine hours at school, running, then coming home and grading papers. It’s hard to find time for anything else when that has so overtaken my world. I’ve had to set some boundaries, like only grading for a certain number of hours, to keep my sanity.

In other news, I love my new school. I deal with some of the same frustrations because I’m teaching ninth graders again, but the environment is exactly what I want to be in. I have some really amazing kids that are going to go out and change the world one day.

Writing:

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My life has very seriously taken a turn recently. I think that this change has in part been responsible for the absolutely perfect weeks outweighing the pretty good but I’m dead tired weeks. Right around when school started, I was doing some soul searching. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. I feel that I have chosen a very good career and I get to help a lot of people and it is exactly where I am supposed to be, but I also know that teaching is not all that I am meant for. In late August I started crunching numbers. It looked something like this:

Typical adult novel ranges between 90,000 and 110,000 words.
There are 9 months between September 1 and May 31.
If my goal is to write 10,000 words by the end of the school year, that means writing:
Month: 11,111.11 words
Week: 2,777.77 words
Day: 396.8

Yeap. The math says only 396.8 words a day. Holy crap. Well, this is the reality check that I needed. Since September one, I have been rising with the birds at 5:00 and writing for an hour before the day gets going. I’m serious. Even when I stay up late grading, even when I’m so tired I can’t think. Even on most weekends I still get up before the rest of the house to write. This has been completely life changing.

I am 24,000 words into my second novel. This is the one, this is the one that I will finish and revise and send out to publishers. In order to speed up the numbers game, my goal is to reach 25,000 words by the end of October (which is fast approaching), and to participate in NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and this year not only am I going to participate, I’m also going to go to some of the Write-Ins and try to make some writing friends! That’s a big step for me people. I get nervous around new people, but it must be done! So, at the end of November, if I am successful in my adventure, I will have 50,000 words to add to my 25,000 words and hopefully I will have 100,000 words by February. That means revision time. It’s kind of scary to know that it is now on paper and I now have to accomplish it or you all will laugh at me. =)

Okay, so that’s three out of five, but it is 5:57 and more coffee is calling my name. I also let the pups wake Nathan up at 6, and that is always fun to watch. Have a great Friday my friends, and keep doing what makes you happy, even if you have to get up before the sane people to make it happen.

The Witch of Little Italy

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“Regular people have such a hard time listening to the low hum of instinct.”

The Witch of Little Italy

Well, Suzanne, here’s what my instinct says: I don’t care what I have to do, where I have to go, or what kind of crazy schemes or fraternity style hazing I have to go through. I want to be a Lost Witch, too.

There, I’ve said it. I loved this book so much I wanted to be a character in it.

I feel like I’m one of those lucky people because I get to be friends with some of the most inspiring people in my world. Now, I’m not friends with Suzanne Palmieri, yet, but I am friends with one of my very favorite creative writing professors from college, and any book that she recommends quickly makes it to the top of my “To Read” pile.

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This book did not disappoint! There are so many things that I loved: the characters, the setting, the ending, the relationships, the mystery, the love, the MAGIC! See, I told you, so many things…

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So, a quick synopsis that doesn’t even begin to cover the true essence of the story is that it is about a girl who finds herself. But it is so much more.

When Eleanor Amore finds herself young, pregnant, and alone, she sneaks out to the Bronx where her grandmother and two great aunts live, along with some other individuals that they have adopted. But there is a part of her past that she can’t remember, a part that involves her family. When she was younger she stayed with them, but she can’t remember anything before the day that she left them that summer when she was ten years old.

Called to her family by “The Sight,” something that all the Amore women have and something that grows stronger in Eleanor everyday, she goes and lives with them. Facing a pregnancy and a history that she can’t remember, Eleanor becomes Elli, putting down roots in an unlikely place that she comes to call home.

In my adult life, I have spent a lot of time reading YA and middle grade literature because I have a longing for magic. I need it. Sometimes the reality of the world feels crushing and overwhelming and I need that spark of fantasy to keep me going. The Witch of Little Italy has that magical spark in an adult book. Are there dragons? No, but there are people who are often the worst kind of dragons. Is there magic? Yes, but not the kind that requires a wand. And most importantly, there is love. Family love, new child love, garden love, the love of something new and the love of re-finding something lost.

I know, I know. I sound so sappy! I just can’t help it. This book started a book-lution for me! I had no idea that there were adult books that had that spark of magic that I was looking for. Suzanne Palmieri captures a lot of human emotion and seamlessly interweaves the magical with reality.

So, visit her newly redesigned website: www.suzannepalmieri.com. When you’re done, go to Barnes and Noble or your favorite local bookstore and buy The Witch of Little Italy. I can’t imagine a world where you would be disappointed.

Other Books by Suzanne Palmieri:

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I’ve read this one, too. I’m kind of an author fanatic, so I obsessively read everything by that author when I find words that I love and can’t get out of my head. This novel is historical fiction, so a different genre all together. Either way, I felt the same connection to the characters and loved the entire story.

Coming Soon by Suzanne Palmieri:
The Witch of Belladonna Bay and I’m really looking forward to this one!