July 2018 Reads

Happy August! I had a pretty great reading month in July. Within the first few days, I finished a non-fiction book I started in the last week of June, read the perfect romantic comedy to go along with the summer season, and returned to the YA genre for the first time in years. In the later half of the month, I encountered some books with slower, more unexciting paces, but finished July with a beautiful book that totally won over my English major heart.

Some of my early reading plans for this month include picking up Crazy Rich Asians and Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, and I have some fun-sounding books on my Kindle that I bought through my Amazon ebook deal emails. July was definitely a month of preferring to read rather than watch TV or movies. so we’ll see how August goes. Until then, enjoy my insights on the seven books I read in July!

American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, by Leslie Carroll (★★★☆☆) 

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I get that it’s way too soon to read a book about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that really gets it. I think the reason the only royal family biography I’ve finished and really loved was Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is because so much of the Queen’s life and reign is already behind her. Delivering a book that feels comprehensive and accurate about any other member of the family is trickier because they’re either still too young or haven’t risen to their full power yet. Wouldn’t you rather read a biography about Prince Charles that handles how he took over his mother’s role as ruler rather than what he’s been doing the past decade to pass the time?

That being said, while reading this, I did learn a lot about Meghan’s upbringing and young adult life that I didn’t know before. The craziness of her love story with Harry still gets me every time. This book shifted between Harry and Meghan’s lives and what they were doing at parallel moments, eventually culminating in how they met and became engaged. Seeing as it was published before the actual royal wedding, the book flanders a bit at the end, hence the lower rating.

Playing with Matches, by Hannah Orenstein (★★★★☆)

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I saw this debut author speak at Her Conference on a book-writing panel last summer, and since then, we now work for the same company. I’ve never met her, but I definitely recommend following her great Twitter feed. Based on Orenstein’s own experiences working as a New York City matchmaker, Playing with Matches is about a recent college grad who snags a matchmaking job in Manhattan out of desperation. Working with much older and experienced clients, she basically has to fake it till she makes it. When her longtime boyfriend betrays her, one of her client’s hunky matches may soon complicate the professional approach she has to maintain over her clients’ love lives.

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6 Books That Gave Me the Most Emotional Reactions

I don’t cry over books as easily as I do in reaction to movies or TV shows. To this day, I can only recall physically crying and even sobbing upon completing maybe two books ever. But I definitely register when I’m so emotionally impacted by a story that I feel numb upon finishing it and need to take a moment for that finality to sink in. No matter how long ago I read these specific books or how well I remember the plot’s fine details, I have a pretty solid memory of when I have that visceral, overwhelming reaction to a story.

I’ve read some great books recently that are relatively happy and engrossing, but the thought of talking about the sadder books that grabbed a fierce hold of me just popped to mind. There are spoilers mentioned below, so proceed with caution if you plan on reading any of these books.

1) Now I’ll Tell You Everything, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

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I’ve definitely spoken about my intense reaction to the last book in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series before. The last story, Now I’ll Tell You Everything, was released early in my freshman year of college, and I read the entire book in one sitting soon after it arrived in my school mailbox the week of its publication. These books were in my life for so long that I genuinely have no memory of how I discovered the series or how old I was when I first started reading them. Unlike the previous books, which each usually covered a few chronological months in Alice’s life, Now I’ll Tell You Everything spanned from Alice’s college years to her sixties.

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The 3 Guilty Pleasure TV Shows That Devour(ed) My Summers

In high school, before streaming was what it is today and I had my own laptop, summer TV was just that — limited to the physical TV and airing exclusively in the summer season. The fact that these shows popped up when I had the most time to keep up with weekly episodes just made them more addictive, and while only one of them is still in my life today, I still equate all three of these shows with summertime.

Technically, the new season of Married at First Sight is also one of my summer watches this year, but the show has pretty small gaps in between seasons and runs what feels like year-round. Is anyone else totally invested in the Dallas season even though they have a feeling it’s going to be a trainwreck? Ah, well, that’s the beauty of summer shows — they don’t need much to keep us hooked.

1) The Next Food Network Star

I don’t keep up with this right now, but for two or three consecutive summers, I was obsessed. This Food Network competition series is basically what it sounds — finalists compete in cooking challenges with twists tied to being TV chefs in order to win their own Food Network series. Honestly, I think it’s the loss of Alton Brown as a judge that made my interest in Food Network Star fade. Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis still judge, but the visual imbalance of two main judges and not having Alton’s witty wackiness just bores me. The show has low-stakes drama with gratuitous food porn, and you never have to pay much attention to it if you’re just not in the mood to think too much. I’d inevitably form a weird crush on one of the long-haired, slightly greasy-looking chefs that I definitely wouldn’t be attracted in real life. That’s what seeing a man cooking can do to you!

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June 2018 Reads

I’ve been so distracted with work and other writing projects that I’ve definitely been putting off a recap of my June reads. Plus, I’ve delved into such enjoyable books this month in July that the books below haven’t exactly stuck out that much since I finished them. It wasn’t until the end of the month that I realized most of what I read was non-fiction, but it seems that I’ve recently gone through phases of preferring non-fiction or documentaries over literary fiction and TV shows. Anyone else feel that way every now and then?

July has already gone down a significantly different path in terms of what I’ve read. While I’m so excited to eventually share what books I’ve read in the past two weeks or so, here’s what I have to say about the five books I read in June.

From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, by Nancy McCabe  (★★★☆☆)

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I received this memoir / literary critique for Christmas a few years ago, and while I read about half of it soon after getting it, I never picked it up again. I rarely buy books because of a lack of storage, so I’ve been trying to chug through the stories on my shelves that I somehow haven’t read yet. McCabe’s book follows her adult journeys to the real-life settings of her favorite childhood books, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables books, and Little Women. She takes these trips with her young daughter, who is usually quite indifferent to the meaning of these locations, and looks at these classic stories from her grown perspective, often becoming disappointed with how problematic the stories actually were.

Like many girls, I reread the Little House books so much as a kid, but as I’ve mentioned before, I love going back to the Anne books and try to reread Anne of the Island at least once a year. I’m also fiercely protective of Anne Shirley, and McCabe’s critique of those books didn’t sit well with me. I get that, as an academic, it was her job to be critical of the stories, but at certain points, it just seemed like she was finding reasons to complain. I did like some of McCabe’s insights, but I was glad to part with her voice at the end of the book.

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My Top Forgotten Preteen Reads

I read so much as a preteen. That voraciousness carried over into middle school, but I have to admit that I was a bit of a risque reader in junior high. I was definitely guilty of reading certain books before being aware of what some of their content even meant or implied. I remember very awkward conversations when my mom discovered that 11-year-old me was reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and one of the more adult Meg Cabot books. Cabot and Judy Blume are essentially my literary equivalent of the freethinking, easygoing aunts who will sneak you magazines explaining everything your mom avoids talking about with you. On the other hand, I still got away with reading raunchy-for-a-tween things like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books because of the unassuming titles.

Before those experiments with more worldly material and when I was still in elementary school, I stuck to the innocent, episodic chapter book series that were stocked in abundance at the library. Back then, I reread the same books constantly, out of both desire and boredom. While standalone books and the Harry Potter series dominate my reading memories from this stage, it also included so many middle grade series that are easy to overlook at first glance but were still such a huge part of my reading life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fond memories of the often forgotten books below!

1) The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin

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I get that the re-design of these covers was an attempt to make the books look less dated, but the fact that the stories themselves are so ’90s is just so charming and hilarious now. You only have to reach as far as one of Claudia’s outfit descriptions to figure out when the series takes place, and that was just one of the many BSC Club charms that kept me invested from about fourth to seventh grade.

Although the series added more main characters in later books, the first few books revolved around three 13-year-old girls who grew up together in their Connecticut suburb. They and a fourth girl, who just moved to town from New York, form a baby-sitting business for local families to use. While the series always focused on their adventures with the neighborhood kids, it also explored the club members’ personal issues, like dating, school troubles, their parents’ divorces or second marriages, and even coping to life with diabetes. I remember coming across many a “where are they now” story during my Harry Potter fanfic-writing days.

I had a special fondness for the BSC Super Specials, which were multi-narrative vacation stories that included trips to Disney World and the girls working as counselors-in-training at summer camp, among other special vacations. There was also the Little Sister series that focused on a baby-sitter’s stepsister in second grade, and before graduating to the main series, I flew through those too.

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An Ode to Black-and-White Movies

For me, it started with Shirley Temple movies.

In childhood, my local library was tucked away in a school district building, limited to a long stretch of a hallway and two cramped children’s rooms. The library has since become a sprawling, gorgeous building a block away from this old location, but my formative memories as a reader rest within visions of that confined space, its dirt-brown carpet, the holiday season’s glass case display of a wintry village, and the chapter book alcove’s solar system mural.

At the end of the long hallway were the shelves of VHS tapes, when DVDs were still a novelty, when your main hope for a movie selection was that the person who checked it out before you had rewound the tape. In a time when our movies now start within a short series of clicks, I marvel over how foreign rewinding seems to me now. God forbid you check out a dramatic epic that was split between two VHS tapes.

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May 2018 Reads

Who else thinks May is the official start of beach reads season? I don’t exclusively associate beach reads with bright book covers depicting the seashore or a woman in pink heels and, instead, I like to think of them as books that just make you happy. I love an engrossing, literary read as much as the next gal, but I just adore when the weather is finally nice enough to just sprawl out in a hammock and cruise through a well-written yet easygoing book.

That being said, I definitely read my fair share of “happy” books this month, but I have some more serious reads planned for June. I have Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere ready to go on my Kindle, and I’m also hoping to get through The Handmaid’s Tale and the new Robin Williams biography this month. After recently finishing the TV series Home Fires in the course of a single weekend (I was obsessed), I’ve also been reading its novelized continuation, Keep the Home Fires Burning. 

As for May’s reads, I’m so proud of what I got through. All of these books were easy to dive in and out of, helping prevent any reading slumps and motivating me to seek new books when the time came. Keep scrolling to see what I thought of each individual read!

In Your Dreams, by Kristan Higgins (★★★★☆) 

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Mark this one down as an actual 4.5-star read. I selected In Your Dreams from my library Overdrive without knowing it was a later book in a series, but I went into it knowing enough praise about Higgins to feel positive about it. Given the details allotted to certain secondary characters, I quickly figured out there were other books about the main characters’ friends and family, but I became so invested in the story of Jack, the beloved only son in a family of vineyard owners, and Emmaline, a lonely neighborhood cop who’s in need of a date for her ex-fiancé’s wedding. Tortured by what he did in a recent local accident, Jack agrees to accompany her for the big day, but their weekend away introduces a romantic streak between the pair that Emmaline isn’t quite ready for.

On the surface, it sounds like an often poorly executed Hallmark movie but, apart from a somewhat abrupt happy ending, I loved Higgins’ writing. She built the characters of Jack and Emmaline so well through backstory and witty dialogue, and I fell in love with their small upstate New York town. I also liked that the book’s “conflict” actually happens quite quickly, allowing the reader to learn more about Jack and Emmaline in their normal, everyday setting rather than the heightened situation of said conflict. The book’s strong writing style and the lovable dynamic of Jack’s family convinced me to read the rest of the Blue Heron series, or at least Jack’s sisters’ stories. As you’ll see below, I didn’t wait too long to check out one of the other books!

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My Movie Romance Is…

1) Lady and the Tramp being serenaded over a spaghetti dinner, but especially when accompanying the 102 Dalmatians twist of two human actors, an eventual real-life couple that’s still together today, connecting over that sweetly shared meatball.

2) A couple’s everyday jaunt through a London tube station in About Time, capturing the stresses and the wonders of the mundane yet magical.

3) Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed huddled around a telephone together, just barely balancing between being calm childhood contemporaries and passionate, loving partners.

4) Jimmy Stewart’s slow, twinkling grin in any movie.

5) Captain von Trapp straightening his gloves before stepping in to teach Maria how a man dances.

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More “If These Book Were Movies…”

My “If These Books Were Movies” posts are some of my favorite to write. Books have always played like movies in my head, and I love when a certain actor immediately comes to mind upon the introduction of a book’s main character. The books I’ve gravitated toward lately have led to particularly vivid characters, which made the following “dream cast” selections some of the most “right” picks in awhile.

The downside of these kind of blogs is that I’m often so set on these actor portrayals that any chance of me enjoying an actual future adaptation is slim. But then again, some books are best lived in your head, right?

1) Matt Lanter as Jack Holland (In Your Dreams / the Blue Heron series, by Kristan Higgins)

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“The driver was a teenage boy, Jack guessed, because there was no one on earth who believed in his driving skill and immortality more than a teenage boy.”

Blame it on the #RenewTimeless mission dominating my mind for two weeks now, but I immediately pictured Timeless’s Matt Lanter as Holland golden boy Jack. In Your Dreams is the Blue Heron story centering on him and stoic local cop Emmaline (who I may have pictured as Timeless leading lady Abigail Spencer, but let’s not get too cutesy). I like that on the surface, Jack is seen as a protector, but he has some intense personal demons that In Your Dreams explores. I’ve only seen Lanter in Timeless, but Jack definitely has overlapping personality traits with his soldier character Wyatt, which made this casting choice obvious.

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What I Wish I Hadn’t Missed

Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.

~ Robert Morgan

1) Simon & Garfunkel’s Central Park concert

2) Newsreels played before movies

3) Wearing a hat and gloves for your daily errands

4) Midnight releases of the early Harry Potter books

5) The original Broadway productions of My Fair Lady and The Music Man

6) Experiencing high school without text messages

7) A television world with only three main channels

8) The heyday of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies

9) Nights that ended with watching Johnny Carson

10) The prime era of drive-in movies

11) The hair and fashion of the 1940s and ’50s

12) Sitting with loved ones while watching the very last episode of M*A*S*H 

13) Nora Ephron’s New York

14) Baggy flannels and wide-rimmed glasses being ’90s men’s go-to fashion

15) The Tina Fey-Amy Poehler era of SNL‘s Weekend Update

16) Watching new Friends episodes on Thursdays

17) Gene Shalit’s TODAY Show segments

18) The novelty of the first few seasons of Real World

19) Swaying to Glenn Miller at USO dances

20) Needing to watch TV in real time at risk of never seeing a certain episode

21) Consciously living through the height of the Spice Girls’ fame

22) Big, wavy hair being in style, a la Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally

23) Being able to avoid feeling engulfed by the news or that I’m missing the next best thing, and knowing that we can disconnect without realizing we’re doing so

One of the virtues of being very young is that you don’t let the facts get in the way of your imagination.

~ Sam Levenson