Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Best Books I Read in 2017


So many books, so little time, right? Here's a list of the books I read in 2017 that are worth the read, so choose from your preferred genres and get reading!

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Literary Fiction)
Pick this up if: You enjoy literary fiction, and following a character throughout their entire life.

You might also like: Goldfinch and A Trip to the Stars.

About: Cyril Avery is not a real Avery -- or at least, that's what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he? Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from - and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

Note: The Heart's Invisible Furies was my favorite read of the year!

A Million Junes by Emily Henry (Magical Realism/Fantasy)
Pick this up if: You like a touch of magic and mysticism in your fiction

You might also like: The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

About: The O'Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn't need a better reason than that. She's an O'Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O'Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period. But when Saul Angert, the son of June's father's mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can't seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn't exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe. 

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored.


Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle (Historical Fiction)

Pick this up if: You enjoy WWII Historical Fiction, or a story that hops back and forth between present and past.

You might also like: All the Light We Cannot See or The Invention of Wings

About: Florence, 1943. Two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio, find themselves surrounded by terror and death; and with Italy trapped under the heel of a brutal Nazi occupation, bands of Partisans rise up. Soon Isabella and Caterina will test their wits and deepest beliefs as never before. As the winter grinds on, they will be forced to make the most important decisions of their lives. Their choices will reverberate for decades. 

In the present day, Alessandro Pallioti, a senior policeman agrees to oversee a murder investigation, after it emerges the victim was once a Partisan hero. When the case begins to unravel, Pallioti finds himself working to uncover a crime lost in the twilight of war, the consequences of which are as deadly today as they were over sixty years ago.


The Circle by Dave Eggers (Dystopian)
Pick this up if: You want to read a book and not put it down until you've finished.

You might also like: Station Eleven, Ready Player One

About: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (Historical Fiction)
Pick this up if: You enjoy historical fiction, but sometimes shy away from war-time novels. (I find myself doing this all the time, but then I read something like The Nightingale and wonder why I don't read more.)

You might also like: All the Light We Cannot See and City of Thieves

About: The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Dystopian)
Pick this up if: You might watch the Hulu series (because you guys, the book is always better!)

You might also like: Station Eleven, The Circle

About: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…


Notes: The Handmaid's Tale was runner-up for my favorite book of the year!

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Feminist Theory/Commentary)

Pick this up if: You are human or want an enlightening read you can finish in a sitting.

You might also like: Americanah, The Circle

About: Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (Personal Essay Collection)

Pick this up if: You're a writer yourself, love Ann Patchett, or just need a little inspiration.

You might also like: Tiny Beautiful Things

About: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.


As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer.


Honorable Mentions:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Historical Fiction)
Fantastic writing. Period.







The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (Historical Fiction)
How one moment can change the course of more than one life.







American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)
Remember: The book is always better







Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Psychological Thriller)
An easy, interesting read with a twist you won't expect.







All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (Coming of Age Fiction)
This is a slightly uncomfortable read, but intriguing. I'd be interested to know your thoughts!






What books did you fall in love with this year?


*This post contains affiliate links.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We can all be Feminists


This is a picture of a feminist.

Do you see how average I am?

I’m not burning my bra or walking around topless.

I don’t hate men. I don’t put men down. I’m all for chivalry.

I feel respected. I am strong and independent.  

I notice differences, but I embrace them because I understand that each person comes from a different set of circumstances.

I am a feminist. But here’s the thing: I think you are, too.

Somehow, feminism got a bad reputation. So let me be clear about what feminism means:

Feminists believe in basic human rights and freedoms. Feminists believe these rights and freedoms should apply to all people regardless of sex, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual preference, language, etc.

Feminists believe human rights include civil and political rights. A right to freedom. A right to express oneself.

Feminists believe in social, cultural and economic rights including the right to participate in the world, the right to work and the right to receive an education.

Feminists believe that even if all of the above mentioned rights exist as law, that these laws must also be upheld and practiced.

Finally, a feminist believes that should the day come when these basic human rights exist and are upheld in every corning of the globe, that she is still a feminist.

To recap: if you believe in basic human rights, you are a feminist.

You may ask:

Can a feminist be a Republican? Yes.

Can a feminist be a Democrat? Yes.

Can a feminist be pro-life? Yes.

Can a feminist be pro-choice? Yes.

Can a feminist be a man? Yes.

Can a feminist be a CEO? Yes.

Can a feminist be a stay at home parent? Yes.

Can a feminist open the door for a woman? Yes.

Can a feminist wear a hijab? Yes.

Can a feminist wear a skirt? Yes.

Can a feminist live in the US? Yes.

Can a feminist live in Iraq? Syria? Russia? France? South Africa? Peru? Japan? Yes.

Can a feminist be a feminist and not even know it? YES.

You see? Now that you know what a feminist is: we can all be feminists.

--

I wrote these words, but I want you to have them. Please feel free to use them alongside a picture of yourself. I want the world to know that we can all be feminists. #wecanallbefeminists

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Like the Blast of a Trumpet

There is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that inspired me a few years ago:

Make your own Bible. 
Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings 
have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.

We've all had those moments haven't we? We identify something in a text that we can identify with. Or perhaps an author perfectly articulates a thought or feeling we've had in the past. Or maybe we come a cross a brilliantly constructed phrase. Words can be magic. And that's why I keep all of my favorites words together in one place.



So naturally, I have an obsession with beautiful journals. If you know me, you know just how obsessed with Prime I am, so I journeyed to the ends of the Amazon just to find my favorites. These would make a sweet little stocking stuffer for your favorite bookworm, a thoughtful gift for your favorite Mom Boss or just a treat for yourself. You need a pretty little place for your naughty and nice list don't you?

These come in a variety of colors with a variety of quotes. My favorites:
"A Likely Story," "Chic Happens," and "Moments of Genius"
Available in a variety of sizes, colors and quotes.
Highlights: "If I Do Say So Myself," "Talk is Chic," and "Put in a Good Word." 
Available in so. many. adorable. prints!
When words just aren't enough.

Aquarius or Leo, record your thoughts under the stars.
Cat Mini Journal Set $14
Crazy Cat Ladies are so in right meow.
Pineapple Journal $20
I've never met a pineapple I didn't like. 


*This post contains affiliate links.
Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial, perfect for your holiday shopping!


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Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Respecting the Office

I'm seeing a lot of people asking those who did not vote for Donald Trump to "get over it" and "move on" and in the nicer instances to "respect the democratic process" and "respect the office."

You have to understand, this may be harder for some than it is for others. And you have to be understanding towards those who didn't vote for Mr. Trump. It's likely they didn't vote for him for a reason.

 To the women who have been sexually assaulted, it might be harder to accept a man who says "When you're a star you can do anything. You can do anything you want. Grab them by the pussy." Or who tweeted, "26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put met & women together?" These are women who have been violated by men without their consent. And now they are going to see a man in the White House who has all but admitted to doing the same. If you are not a victim of sexual assault, take a minute and just try to imagine what that must feel like.

You have to understand that to the women who have fought hard to be taken seriously in a male-dominated work environment, it might be harder to accept a man as President who refers to women as bimbos or says things like, "I have days where, if I come home-- and I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner's not ready, I go through the roof." A man who continually reduces women to their looks. Who in an interview with New York Magazine said when referring to women, "You have to treat them like shit." Again, if you are not a woman, take a minute and try to imagine what that must feel like.

These are things that as a women, bother me because I can relate to them. There are Muslim-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, LGBT individuals, and countless others who have a problem with Mr. Trump because of a myriad of other examples. You must take the time to try and relate and understand.  It is critical. We do not all come from the same place, the same influences and the same experiences. And so we have to be understanding of someone who is not ready to respect Mr. Trump.

I will respect the office so long as I respect the man in it. I think that is fair.

And right now? And I'm only speaking for myself here: I do not respect Donald Trump.

Do you want to know a secret? I didn't vote for President Obama. In either election. But I had no problem respecting him as our chosen President. I had no problem "respecting the office." Sure I disagreed with him on some issues, but he always engaged in a respectful rhetoric. I could easily respect the choice of the nation, because I could respect the man we chose. (For the record, I am completely happy with the Obama Presidency, and I learned a lot about myself and my beliefs during his term.)

To reiterate: I will respect the office so long as I respect the man in it.

And to be clear, this is not impossible. I am willing to give Mr. Trump a chance. He has a very long way to go, and it will likely take him the entire four years of excellent behavior and respectful discourse, alongside changes in policy that move us forward and not take us backward. I am willing to forgive (but not forget) his past behavior and to respect him, so long as that respect is warranted from here on out.

I will concede that his Victory Speech surprised me, and for once it surprised me in a good way. It was a good start, Mr. Trump, for you personally. But Day One in Trump's America wasn't pretty, and it exemplifies perfectly what I was so worried about.

I realize that many who voted for Mr. Trump are at their core, good people. People who were voting for change. They were tired of career politicians, our nation's debt, worried about ISIS and our place in the world. But unfortunately Mr. Trump also chose to engage in some very clear, and very negative rhetoric that, whether he intended to or not, made him a champion for the intolerant: the racists, the sexists, the xenophobes, the homophobes. The list is long. 

But it's still not too late to get me on board.

A suggestion Mr. Trump? Call upon America and ask us all, each and every one of us to respect the laws of this country and to respect ALL of the people in it. Remind us that we all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remind us that we all have a right to determine and define what that pursuit will look like for us.

Ask us not to follow some of your past examples (for everyone makes mistakes) but to follow the examples you plan to set from here on out. Don't ask us to help you "Make America Great Again" but instead ask us to help you Make America Greater Than Its Ever Been. It's a long slogan, sure, but one that I think more people will get behind.

Tell us that from here on out, you'll be conscientious and accountable for the words that you use and the behavior you engage in. Tell us that you are someone who is willing to better himself for the sake of our nation. This sounds like someone I could respect.

I didn't vote for you, Mr. Trump. But I am willing to stand beside you and fight to make this country better-- a country that believes in all of its people, and who raises them up to be the best they can.

--

And to the rest of us, to the whole spectrum of people that resides in this United States: it's okay to disagree. But you can disagree honorably and respectfully. We all come from different experiences, backgrounds and influences, and to understand that will bring you peace. 

Here's some solid advice on how to disagree:



I'll leave you with something I tell my children every morning:

Be safe.
Be kind.
Make good choices.
Enjoy life.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Milestones and Memories

Tomorrow my heart is going to climb the steps of a big yellow bus for the first time and drive away.

I've spent the better part of an hour looking at pictures and memories of my first baby with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes.

I remember countless nights holding him on my shoulder. Some nights it was the only way he would sleep. When was the last time he fell asleep in my arms?


He had a ridiculously adorable hairstyle. When was the last time I got to feel those sweet baby-soft locks?

His first steps were unsteady and careful. Now he runs. When did his baby wrist rolls disappear?

I hear "I can do it myself," often now. I'm proud of his independence, but when was the last time he needed me to open his juice? When was the last time I reminded him not to squeeze it too hard when he picked it up?

The answer to all of these questions is: I can't remember. 

We look forward to and make memories out of all the milestones: the first smiles, first laughs, first steps and first day of Kindergarten. But how could we possibly know to treasure and record the passing of all of the little moments, too? 

The last time he would crawl instead of walk.

The last time he needed my hand to jump down off of a step.

The last time he would grunt for "yes" instead of speak it.

The last time he would need me to read him Goodnight Moon, Dr. Suess's ABC's and the Going to Bed book on repeat until he fell asleep.

The last time he needed me to catch him at the end of the slide.

I have an overwhelming feeling that I'm not remembering all of the things I will want to remember and it's breaking my heart.

But maybe that's why we have days like The First Day of Kindergarten. Days where we can stop for a moment, look at our children and realize how far we've come. We can recall many of the beautiful moments that have passed in the space between their birth and this instant and reflect.

At some point our children move from being a collection of precious moments to being their own entity. I may not be able to remember every minute of my child's existence, but each minute has built on the one before it to create this beautiful, tiny human. 

A beautiful, tiny human that might look back at me for the last time tomorrow as he climbs onto that big yellow bus.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Just Another Family Portrait

We recently did some family photos in our backyard, now that Fiona has been added to the mix. I met our photographer, Leslie of Tiny Bubbles Photography after William was born, and we sort of just clicked and she has become not only a dear friend, but one of my favorite people. I've shared many of her photos in the past: it's no secret that she is talented.

One of the reasons I love her? Her sense of humor. I always find myself laughing when we have a chance for a girls' night. But it also occasionally sneaks into her work. Not only did she come through with some great family portraits (more on that later,) She also included this series of photos in our gallery. I originally looked at this late at night, and in my sleep-deprived state, I cried from laughing so hard.







The boys hadn't napped on this day, and were full of the sillies, as very clearly captured in this series. I nearly peed my pants in the second to last one, where you only see a foot. I love that Henry and William's personalities jump out of these photos.

I most definitely recommend Tiny Bubbles for your family or kid photos if you are in Chicagoland. Leslie also has various mini-sessions throughout the year, so check her out!