I had such a great day visiting The Meadowbrook School! I know I look all serious here, but it was mostly talk about characters, stories, magic and unicorns. All my favorite things! As someone who spends way too much time sitting alone in a quiet room, I love doing these school visits. Kindergarten through second grade is my sweet spot. If you're in the Boston area and need a visiting author who comes with lots of fun games, let me know!
Just finished The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney and I highly recommend it. The Nest is one of those wonderful novels that is equally smart and entertaining. Following four siblings as they deal with fallout from their expected inheritance, there's something for everyone. I will admit, the cover blurb from Amy Poehler was a big reason I picked this book up. Amy Poehler and Tina Fay can do no wrong in my world. Poehler was indeed spot on in her endorsement and, since I dropped this book in the bath and the cover is all warped in the pic, I'll copy it here: "Intoxicating... I couldn't stop reading or caring about the dysfunctional Plumb family."
This is Sweeney's first novel and it's selling really well, including a great review in the NYTimes. I love seeing new writers break through with such success and I wanted to do my part to spread the word!
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have a lot of books. My bookshelves are overflowing in my office, my bedroom, our playroom, and my childrens's rooms. But I love all my books and they're not going anywhere.
Recently I've started day dreaming about changing up my dining room. It's the only room in the house that we rarely use and the only room with no books. Coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not.
As I think about our dining room, I keep thinking of these two images. Both are a few years old, but they've stuck in my mind:
I love these rooms so much and would happily invite myself over to both of them. (Especially if Nate Berkus was at home and we could chat all things life, fashion, and home decor!). In my own home, I'm thinking more of a casual dining room/homework space with a big reclaimed wood table and modern lighting. But one things for certain - there will be lots of room for books!
Yes, I totally meant to channel Adele's new song with this blog title. Have you heard it? It's haunting and beautiful. I feel like someone (me? someday?) could write an entire novel inspired by its message. I've been playing it on repeat so often that my three-year old can now sing the entire thing. She's always a few beats behind and off key. It's adorable.
The other thing I've been listening to is Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me? Mindy and I had this thing a while back. It was awesome and I'm sure she still thinks about it all the time. You can read about it here. Anyway, the book is hilarious. But it's also inspiring. There were several times when I wished I was reading, not listening to, Why Not Me because I would have stopped, reread, and highlighted many of the passages relating to confidence and putting your work out there. One of the best things about Mindy is she doesn't apologize for feeling confident. She works her butt off, she loves what she does, and she puts her stuff out there. Haters can hate, judgers can judge, but its not going to stop her from being making things happen. And to that I say, amen!
One other thing I've been reading to my daughter and loving is The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block. It's a collection of four stories about a wonderful character named Miss Petitfour who goes flying around her village via tablecloth with her sixteen cats swirling along behind her. The book is physically beautiful, with lovely illustrations and a pink silk ribbon for marking your place. And the language! The language is amazing! This is a book that really should be read out loud as the sentences are heavenly. Want to read the intro?
Some adventures are so small, you hardly know they've happened. Like the adventure of sharpening your pencil to a perfect point, just before it breaks and that little bit gets stuck in the sharpener. That, I think we can all agree, is a very small adventure.
Other adventures are so big and last so long, you might forget they are adventures at all -- like growing up.
And some adventures are just the right size -- fitting into a single, magical day. And these are the sort of adventures Miss Petitfour had.
Reading this book with my daughter has made me think about my own writing. It's reminded me how much I love writing for this chapter book age group. It's such a wonderful age where you can add a touch of magic to a story and make it shine. Girls can have magical necklaces that take them around the world, people can float through a village via a tablecloth sail, and happy endings can be had by all.
Some illustrations below via:
As promised, I've got some summer book recs. I'm calling this Vol. I because there are some great titles coming out in the next few weeks that I'm looking forward to reading and will surely report on. Let's jump in, shall we....
The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This is one of those books that you don't want to say too much about because the surprise factor is crucial. But I will say that it took me a little while to understand the main character, Ani Fanelli nee TifAni Fanelli, who we first meet when she's working at a dream magazine job in NYC, engaged to a preppy handsome young fellow, and planning their gorgeous wedding on Nantucket. Yet Ani is pretty darn miserable. Ani is tricky to get at first, but once you get her, you really get her and I was shocked to find myself rooting for her big time. Bonus points for the fact that this book is partly set around where I grew up so I had a very easy time picturing all the private high school drama unfold.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. A vacation to Sonoma County, a family drama, and a little love scandal all rolled into one. We've all read books about the engaged girl who doesn't know if she should get married, right? It's been done before, but not as intelligently as this. When Georgia Ford discovers just one week before her wedding that her fiancee has been keeping a very big secret, she runs back to the comfort of her family's vineyard to find that her beloved family is no longer as familiar as she thought. I interviewed Laura Dave for a magazine article a few years ago and I've been hoping she'd come out with a new novel ever since. This one was worth the wait and I highly recommend it.
If you're in the mood for pure beach reading fun, I recommend The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza and The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I think it's no coincidence that both these books were written by writing partners because as you're reading them you can almost picture two girlfriends giggling in delight at the scandalous world they're creating. The Knockoff is very Devil Meets Prada dates Silicon Valley (if the Silicon Valley boys were actually fashion obsessed and drop dead gorgeous). The Royal We is a Kate and Will inspired drama that has a special place in my heart because (1) I love any Kate and Will inspired book (see Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding) and (2) I think the cover is one of the best I've ever seen. The writing is really fun as well with some great zingers.
If you have any recommendations please share! And if you're talking summer reading for the kiddos with your friends, please tell them about Star Sisters. Every author needs a little word of mouth love and I truly appreciate every sale you guys make happen!
It's been almost two months since I last updated this blog. Oops! Part of me wants to be like that person in the grocery store, you know, the one who sees you sweating while you push one of those monster carts with the plastic cars in front that have the turning radius of an 18-wheeler, your kids literally spilling out of it, who smiles at you and says, "Oh, the time just goes by so fast, doesn't it?"
Well, no. Not always. Sometimes as a parent the days go really, really slowly. It's the same thing for writers (at least for this writer). Sometimes the days go really, really slowly and I feel like I'm slogging along with nothing to show for myself. So while I wish I could say that I've been so productive writing something new that time has just slipped through my fingers, that's not the case. I've been looking for my next story and have been trying a little of everything, waiting to see what clicks. I've been writing a lot, but it has not been the happy cheerful writing that makes me want to blog and share my thoughts with the world.
But, in a novel twist of events, I've decided that's okay. Star Sisters totally clicked for me. I remember the moment when I thought, "Yes, this is it! This is my story and I'm making this sucker happen." But it took me many attempts to get there. (You all should see the mess that is my old documents file.) But I know I'm going to get that feeling again. I think the trick for me is to stop trying to write what's hot in the industry or what I know is selling well right now. I need to go back to the basics. For me, that means one thing - thinking only about what I want to read to my girls at night. That's it. That's where I get my motivation, my ideas, my love for what I do. It comes from me to them. Period.
So now I'm trying to channel this level of chill about my writing. Oh, to be seven!
Of course, this piece by Pamela Druckerman in this week's NY Times came at exactly the right time. I love Pamela Druckerman and find so much inspiration in her words. Bringing Up Bebe is probably the only parenting book I've ever read cover to cover. Plus, I really love it when people I admire tell me that it's okay to feel like your brain is empty, to have horrible first attempts, and also to be obsessive. Check, check, and check!
P.S. Stay tuned for some great summer reading recs. I feel like the book industry is on fire right now. I've been reading a ton of great new releases that I can't wait to tell you all about.
"It is not always wise to assume that just because the surface of the world appears undisturbed, life is where you left it."
So begins Jan Ellison's first novel, A Small Indiscretion. I devoured this novel, because of both the beauty of its writing and the strength of its story. Ladies, have you ever been driving in your car or waiting in the school pick-up line and thought back to the days when you were free to make completely stupid decisions? When you felt like you could play around with life and love and just see what happens? Have you ever thought about how all that changes once you have children? How that kind of bravado about life disappears once you become tethered to people you love more than you could ever imagine possible? If you answered yes, then this is the book for you.
Alternating between 1989 London and 2012 San Francisco, A Small Indiscretion is written as a letter from a grieving mother to an injured son as the mother attempts to explain her past, a past that she never expected would radically alter her future. But - no big spoiler alert here - the past comes back to rear its ugly head big time. I absolutely loved the way Ellison highlights how women can appear to be "ordinary" mothers and housewives on the outside, but so deeply complex on the inside. And I absolutely loved the writing. I loved the way Ellison expertly weaves settings and situations into the personalities of her characters. She strikes me as the kind of writer that treats each sentence with care, but never takes her eye off the plot. The result is a book that is both beautiful and exciting. Plus, there's an excellent twist at the end, my friends. I promise you will not be disappointed. Click here to purchase and spread the word about this wonderful read.
Now, the novel's main character owns a lighting store and custom designs unique light fixtures. (See what I mean about Ellison weaving situations into her characters lives - the woman literally works to bring things into the light even as she struggles with the darkness of her own past. Brilliant!). As I was reading the passages about her lighting designs, I kept picturing the work of Lindsey Adelman. I would love one of her fixtures in my dining room. I just think they're so modern, yet warm. And so freaking cool. Wanna see? All images via Pinterest and Lindsey Adelman's website.
Breaking news! (No, Star Sisters Book 5 is not out. Thank you all for your lovely emails and messages about kids asking for another book. I promise you that I'm working hard on lots of things, I'm just not sure what form those things are going to take.) But.... in other important news I did meet someone very cool this weekend!
Let's review. Anyone remember this blog post? Long story short, I love Ina Garten. I think she's such an inspiring woman and when my cartoon head was featured alongside hers in Family Circle Magazine I was totally thrilled. Wanna see it again?
She came to my town a few months ago to speak and do a book signing. I was tempted to go, but it was being held in an enormous auditorium and I didn't want to have to stand in a long line only to have her quickly sign my book and then be rushed onwards by her publicist. I mean, we're such close cartoon people, you know?
And then, just this weekend, I took my middle daughter to NYC for her birthday. We were up at 'em early Sunday morning and took a cab to my favorite breakfast spot on the Upper East Side. Since it was 7:50am, in New York City, on a Sunday, the place was totally empty except for.... wait for it... Ina and her husband Jeffrey! I rounded the corner and there they were, having a lovely morning breakfast. It was as if they were waiting just for me! (Okay, obviously not. Clearly I've been writing a few too many books for five year old girls). But we did make eye contact and I just froze and put my hand to my heart. Ina smiled so welcomingly that I went over to say hello. I told her all about our cosmic cartoon connection, although I'm fairly certain she had no idea what I was talking about. But here's the thing - she was so lovely. She wanted to know all about my daughter and our weekend plans. As I slowly backed away, lest I appear even more creepy than I actually am, I just said, "Thank you so much." Because I really did want to thank her for being the inspiring business woman she is and for not blowing me off. For not crushing this image that I have of her in my head as some kind of distant life/career mentor, someone who's whispering into the winds that blow from her kitchen to my writing desk: "Follow your dreams. Never give up. And yes, you should absolutely help yourself to another chocolate chip cookie." (And also for that turkey lasagna recipe in her Family Style Cookbook because it's amazing and I make it all winter long. Recipe here).
So there you have it. Celebrity sightings Star Sisters style!
The book industry always seems to make a big push for summer beach reads, but I think good winter reads are almost more important. I don't know about you, but I just can't read about bikinis and boats while I'm pale and shivering. It just makes me angry (with a strong side serving of jealousy). Since there's still snow on the ground in my backyard, I wanted to let you know what I loved reading this winter. By the way, if I was two years and adorable this is exactly the face I would make to sum up this past winter:
The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon.
An eery, gripping, awesome page turner. My husband and I went to a wedding this weekend and I picked this up at the airport. Even though I'm always grateful for a break from my kids, I get nervous traveling without them. I know it's not rational, I just do. This book was such a blessing because I literally spent every free moment totally absorbed in this story that takes place in the snowy woods of Vermont. Just be warned, it's a little haunting. When my daughter came into our room in the middle of the night last night I had almost had a heart attack because I was convinced she was a sleeper child. Curious what I'm talking about? Read the book!
The Paris Winter, by Imogen Robertson
A wonderful historical fiction mystery that takes place in... wait for it... Paris! In the winter! Shocking, I know! But really, this book was totally transporting and included such a great peak into the life of women artists in the Belle Epoque era and the unique challenges they faced. A swirling story of art, jewels, and opium with a heavy dose of deceit. Made me want to go back and read more of Robertson's work.
I've also really enjoyed: Us by David Nicholls (he wrote One Day and is a genius at dissecting family relationships); Big Little Lies by Liane Moriaty (I can never resist a suburban mama drama); The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (nor can I resist a book that gets this much hype); and Life Drawing by Robin Black (which I've written about before but still need to mention because it deserves a read!).
The Rapscott Girls, by Elise Primavera
I'm reading this with my seven year old and we both love it! The premise is brilliant - a school for daughters of the busiest parents in the world. The girls are actually shipped in boxes because their parents are just too busy to deal! And get this, the girl with the absolute busiest parents has a mother "who writes a very popular blog about the trials and tribulations of being a mom." It's funny and fast paced with well spaced drawings of the girls and their enchanting new school. A new favorite in the chapter book space for sure.
The Princess and The Pig, by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
My brand new five year old (big sigh) and I have been reading this book every single night. On its face it's the story of a princess and pig who accidentally swap places as babies. But on a deeper level it's a hilarious commentary on all the crazy, totally illogical things that happen in fairy tales. As you all know, I've got a special place in my heart for children's books that also entertain adults and this definitely falls into that category. Wonderful illustrations, a unique take on an old tale, and the icing on the cake is a smart young woman who happily turns her back on the chance to be a princess.
I went to a wonderful parenting lecture last week at my daughter's school. (Special thank you to the awesome group of PTO moms for organizing). The topic was "How to Raise Resilient Children" presented by Dr. Robert Brooks. Now, I am not a parenting book/parenting lecture kind of mom. I probably should be. But after spending all day with my children, the last thing I want to do after they go to bed is read about children. Just being honest.
But this topic called to me as I think it does to many parents whose children are moving from the sheltered toddler years where we can do things like listen to NPR in the car or breast feed in front of the national news, to the elementary school years where I don't even dare turn on the tv to catch the weather for fear of what my kids will hear. But of course, we can't protect our kids from everything. Life happens. You know what happens. And as a parent I want to raise children who have the skills to cope. Plus, the school is a block away from my house. And my husband miraculously made it home in time for me to attend. So I went.
Given that the topic was resiliency, I was expecting Dr. Brooks to lecture on things like letting our children fight their own battles and grounding the helicopter tendencies that reside in all of us to some degree. But he didn't really get into that. What he did get into, was the idea that in order for children to overcome challenges and grow up into resilient adults, they need a charismatic adult in their lives. Never fear, according to Dr. Brooks being a charismatic adult does not mean whipping out the jazz hands while stirring the mac n' cheese, it means being a person from whom the child gathers strength. It means asking yourself as you kiss your child goodnight, What did I do today to make my child feel stronger?
Dr. Brooks said a lot more than that (and I also missed a lot of what he said because I spent a great deal of the lecture alternating between laughing at his stories and crying over them, he was a wonderful speaker), but I just loved the simplicity of this point. So much of parenting involves reigning kids in and setting limits. So much of it involves saying no. And Dr. Brooks made it clear that discipline and boundary setting are very important. But it was also nice to hear someone talk about one of the most wonderful things about being a parent, which is watching our kids become who they are and letting them know how amazing we think that little person is. It was a good reminder.
By the way, this charismatic adult figure does not have to be a parent or a relative. They just need to be there at the right time, for the right child. It's funny, but during this lecture I couldn't help but think that Coco and Lucy act as a charismatic adult figures in Star Sisters. They come in when a child needs them most and provide a source of strength. I hope Dr. Brooks would approve.